By all accounts, it has been a marvellous start to the year for the Ulster Farmers' Union (UFU) and its lobbying teams, in terms of climate and bovine tuberculosis (bTB).

Last month saw the organisation getting the changes that it wanted to the proposed climate change legislation for Northern Ireland.

This was added to by last week’s decision, on the part of Northern Ireland agriculture minister, Edwin Poots, to introduce new bovine TB (bTB) testing and eradication measures.

Essentially, we now have a scenario unfolding within which wildlife will be included within the bTB testing net.

Changes to bTB regulations

UFU president, Victor Chestnutt has centred his entire term of office on getting changes to the bTB regulations.

At least now, he won’t have to chain himself to railings at Stormont in protest at what he regarded as the totally inept series of eradication measures that had been in place up to this point.

So hats off to him for having the courage of his convictions and not giving up on an issue that creates so much additional stress within large numbers of farming families every day of the year.

However, I sense that the reprieve offered by Edwin Poots may only be temporary in nature. To put it in very simple terms, the new eradication measures must be seen to be working.

And the clock is ticking in this regard.

If tangible reductions in bTB levels are not recorded within months, never mind years, I sense that every animal welfare organisation in the country will be baying to have badgers and other wildlife removed from the test and capture requirements.

And when this happens, other organisations with a jaundiced view of modern farming practices will also jump on the bandwagon, no doubt encouraging consumers to stop eating meat.


Everyone agrees that bTB must be eradicated from the countryside. I sense there is a strong degree of sympathy out there amongst the public at large for those farmers who have lost so much because of the disease.

But this mood could change very quickly in the other direction if it was felt that the active control of wildlife was having no impact at all on bTB levels within our cattle populations.

Farming has always had to tread a fine line, where these matters are concerned.

Gone are the days when most beef and dairy output was destined for an intervention store or was pushed in the direction of private storage.

Today the consumer is king. And animal welfare, in all its guises, determines which products members of the general public actually purchase.