Agriculture Minister Michelle O’Neill has been accused of delaying too long in taking action over badgers infected with bovine tuberculosis.
Stormont’s agriculture committee called on her department to take immediate action following a sharp surge in incidence rates of the disease in cattle over the last 18 months.
Launching its report into bovine TB, the committee said it welcomed the recent announcement of a wildlife intervention research programme that will see badgers captured and tested. Those that are infected will be culled while those clear of the disease will be vaccinated and released back into the wild.
However, the plans should be much more advanced by this point, committee chairman Paul Frew said.
“As a committee, we are deeply concerned about the impact of this disease and in our report we are asking for more to be done so the disease is not able to take a firmer hold in Northern Ireland,” he said. “The department must ensure the problem does not increase any further.”
In 15 years, bovine TB has cost Northern Ireland around £317m, much of which has been spent on the testing regime and compensation for the slaughter of infected animals.
But this financial cost doesn’t take into the account the toll of personal stress and emotional distress that herd breakdowns bring for many farming families, the committee's report said.