Can bovine tuberculosis be eradicated from Ireland, and could this be achieved by 2030?

With eradication of bovine tuberculosis remaining elusive, Professor Simon More, Associate Editor of the Irish Veterinary Journal , explores whether this could be possible in the next decade.

A program to eradicate tuberculosis (TB) from the Irish cattle population has now been in place for many decades. While progress is being made and there has been a steady fall in the number of infected animals detected each year, eradication remains elusive.

Given this background, the recent announcement by the Irish government of a 2030 target for TB eradication is noteworthy. This announcement does prompt key questions, including is eradication actually a possibility in Ireland?, and – if so – can eradication be achieved by 2030?

In an article published by Simon More, Associate Editor of the Irish Veterinary Journal and Professor at University College Dublin, these two questions are specifically addressed, drawing on current scientific knowledge and experiences gained in other countries, particularly those that have successfully eradicated this disease from cattle.

It has been known for some time that wildlife, specifically badgers, are a contributor to the dynamics of TB in cattle in Ireland. While the relative contribution of each species is not certain in the broader dynamics of infection, it is clear that efforts to limit the spread of infection from badgers to cattle must be part of any solution towards TB eradication. For this reason, researchers have welcomed ongoing work, based on extensive collaboration between Ireland and the UK, towards a TB vaccine for badgers. Vaccine studies in wild badgers have been promising, and badger vaccination is now being rolled out across the country.

Throughout the eradication program, researchers have had to determine how many of the measures available to control TB in cattle and wildlife constitute ‘enough’ for successful eradication. This is a very important question, certainly for managers of the national TB eradication program, and it is only now that clear answers are emerging. Based on recent work conducted in collaboration with Wageningen University in The Netherlands, it seems likely that the introduction of badger vaccination, in addition to all current control measures in place in Ireland, while helpful, will not be sufficient for TB eradication in Ireland within a reasonable time frame.

It seems likely that the introduction of badger vaccination, in addition to all current control measures in place in Ireland, while helpful, will not be sufficient for TB eradication in Ireland within a reasonable time frame.

In this review article, Simon More considers this information in detail. If badger vaccination, in addition to all current control measures, is not sufficient, it raises the question of what more needs to be done.

Drawing on scientific knowledge and international experience, this article outlines three areas where further efforts should be focused, consistent with successful eradication of TB from Ireland within a reasonable time-frame. These relate to wildlife (including ongoing monitoring of badger vaccination), further risk-based cattle controls including risk-based trading, and increased industry engagement both in terms of decision-making and cost-sharing. Progress in many of these areas is reliant on political, industry and societal support.

Decisions taken now will have long-term implications, both in terms of time-to-eradication and overall program cost. They will also directly determine the feasibility of a 2030 national TB eradication target.

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