Culling badgers will not deliver the full eradication of bovine tuberculosis (bTB) according to a leading UK cattle vet.

Dick Sibley, a veterinarian with 47 years experience, told a meeting hosted by the Northern Ireland’s Pedigree Cattle Trust in Armagh, that focusing only on badgers is not the correct approach to bTB.

According to Sibley, based on his experiences gained in the South West of England over recent years, badgers are not the primary source of tuberculosis infection in cattle.

He acknowledged that “large numbers of badgers were culled in the region”.

“However, bTB infection rates did not fall to any significant extent in response to this intervention,” Sibley stated.

He has likened the use of badger culling to help eradicate bTB as akin to “putting a plaster on a gaping wound”.


Sibley added: “We need to know more about the spread of bTB and how cattle react to the bacteria involved.

“Priority number one is preventing the spread of the disease. And this is not happening at the present time.”

He believes that the bTB skin test, currently used widely in the UK and Ireland, is not fit for purpose.

“It will work as a screening test, identifying the presence of bTB at herd level.

“But it is not efficient at indentifying individual reactor animals,” he warned.

The Devon based vet also highlighted that bTB bacteria can lie dormant in cattle for many years during a, so called, latent period.

“What we the find is that the bacteria become re-activated if another disease such as BVD impacts on an animal.

“The same thing can happen when animals undergo dietary and hormonal changes.

“The most obvious example of this is when dry cows calve. Here we have a combination of dietary and hormonal factors kicking in,” the vet added.

Sibley is also of the view that ingestion of infected dung in feed and the drinking of infected colostrum by newborn calves are two key bTB spreading mechanisms.

(L-R) Brian Walker, Pedigree Cattle Trust, Dick Sibley, veterinarian and Tom Elliott MLA

He posed the question to Northern Ireland’s Pedigree Cattle Trust as to whether it will ever be possible to eradicate bTB completely – and answered it.

Sibley outlined: “A complimentary policy strategy might well be that of accepting a certain level of the disease within our cattle herds.

“I know that many farmers are deeply upset at having to lose their best animals on the back of a bTB test, particularly when the cattle in question show no physical symptoms of the disease.

“Vaccination is another option for the future. But this can only be looked at seriously, once  a test has been developed that can differentiate between infected and vaccinated animals.”