Sunday 22 September 2019

Fiona O'Connell: 'Making a killing from culling our poor badgers'

Lay Of The Land

Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed. Photo: Arthur Carron
Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed. Photo: Arthur Carron

Fiona O'Connell

The bright lights of a big city mean you don't have to don a fluorescent jacket. Whereas they are essential wear when walking on pitch-black country roads. Alas, our wildlife has no such luminous lifebelt.

Among the most regular road-kill you see is the badger. Though these iconic animals have worse to endure. For badgers have long been blamed for spreading bovine TB. They have been subjected to a relentless and indiscriminate culling campaign for decades that includes nursing mothers, leaving their young to starve in their underground setts. More than 100,000 badgers have been killed.

But earlier this year Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed announced that Ireland would start to use vaccinations. It was claimed "this major shift" was the result of years of scientific research funded by the department.

Yet this humane alternative has been used in other countries for 27 years.

Could Creed's change of heart have more to do with saving face, following a study three years ago by Queen's University that suggested culling badgers "contributed significantly" to TB outbreaks? And indeed that TB stems from poor farm practices?

Yet despite this evidence, and our devastated badger population, Creed insists culling will continue.

A friend of mine, who lives outside this country town, has a theory as to why this might be so. He regularly sees men who work for the department setting snares for badgers.

"They're not supposed to be doing that," he says. "They're supposed to catch them and bring them into the department and test them for TB. If they have TB, then, fair play, put them down. But they're killing the badgers and then bringing them in." Little wonder, when licences are issued en masse once a year, with little or no supervision.

My pal tells me about a nearby place "where they took out 302 badgers - but only one out of the 302 had TB. The girl in the department was a cousin of a cousin of mine and she told me: 'They get €280 a badger - you catch 10 badgers a week'."

My friend waits until the men leave. Then he goes and takes up "those brutal cruel yokes. One time I took out 135 snares in two acres. They had snares at every tree."

My pal understands the farmer's point of view. He and his father kept cattle for 35 years. "The year before we stopped, the department came in and took out the badgers. And that was the first year me and another guy got TB."

He believes dirt causes the disease. "They've done studies in England, where birds filthy the drinking water, and they don't clean it out from one year to the next."

But "badgers are the scapegoats because culling is good business.

The vets don't want to stop because it's a money-spinner. They do three tests and get more for the second and the third than the first one".

Sounds like it pays obscenely well to sett up the poor badger.

Sunday Independent

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