HC Deb 01 March 1990 vol 168 cc377-8
10. Mr. Beggs

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland whether any evidence exists of tuberculosis in badgers in Northern Ireland; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Peter Bottomley

The Department of Agriculture has been monitoring badgers for the presence of bovine tuberculosis over many years and has carried out a number of field studies. Present evidence does not suggest that badgers represent a significant health risk to cattle in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Beggs

I thank the Minister for his reply. He must be aware by now of the excellent health record of Northern Ireland livestock and the good work that has been done to eradicate both brucellosis and tuberculosis from our cattle herds. Nevertheless, is not he concerned, as are many farmers who have clear herds, and have had clean herds for many years, who suddenly find an outbreak of TB with no identifiable source that can be connected with their farming operations? Will he undertake to seek the co-operation of the Department of the Environment and district councils to ensure that all badgers that are killed on our roads can be collected, taken to the Department's veterinary research laboratories and tested to eliminate the fear and establish any influence that badgers may have on the spread of TB? Will he ensure that all imported cattle from the Irish Republic are properly tested before they come into Northern Ireland and are also tested on Northern Ireland farms?

Mr. Bottomley

We need to make sure, both north and south of the border, that TB is eliminated. There was a recent brucellosis outbreak which was, I think, tracked down and eliminated. Fewer than one in 50 of the TB outbreaks could possibly be attributed to badgers. It would be totally wrong to try to eradicate badgers in Northern Ireland, when 49 out of 50 of the TB outbreaks have other causes.

By the time badgers become a significant issue, I hope that we shall have found some way of dealing with it other than eradication.

Mr. Mallon

Does the Minister agree that it would be an evasion of the truth if we were to blame the poor badger, which cannot answer back, for a problem that exists for many other reasons? I am sure that he is aware of the high incidence of bovine tuberculosis in the Newry and Armagh constituency. Will he tell the House when he will take steps to ensure that 100 per cent. compensation is given for herds with bovine tuberculosis with the same speed as 100 per cent. compensation was given for cattle with mad cow disease in Britain?

Mr. Bottomley

Let us be absolutely clear that the incidence of BSE is dramatically lower in Northern Ireland than in other parts of the United Kingdom. We shall try to keep it that way as far as we possibly can.

Were we to have gone for 100 per cent. compensation on all animal illnesses, I fear that we would not have introduced compensation in the first place for any, so we must be careful about rolling it forward into every area. The main associations with tuberculosis are markets and nosing across boundary fences. Those areas are more important than eradicating brocks.