TB crisis: ‘There is no justification that farmers should be asked to fund failure’

Pedigree breeders in the North say they feel they are being punished over TB because of “government failure”.

Asking farmers to fund TB measures is the “height of hypocrisy”, when the department has “failed to make progress on tackling the disease”, Pedigree Cattle Trust chairman Brian Walker told breeders who turned out to the lobby body’s TB conference.

It comes as the disease hit its worst level in more than 13 years. TB is expected to cost £40 million in Northern Ireland this year.

‘Highly critical report’

Walker said: “It is important to note that the process that the department is now on is a direct consequence of the European Commission report in 2015 of an audit on the department’s approach towards the eradication of this disease in Northern Ireland. That report was highly critical of the department.”

Reading from the report, he continued: “‘Despite recent efforts in the right direction to-date, the department has paid limited attention to giving helpful advice and providing effective guidance to vets in relation to good preventative and biosecurity practices’.”

‘Ill-founded’

Walker said the TB recommendations suggest cutting compensation as a way of incentivising farmers to do more to stop the disease.

However, he added that there was “no scientific basis” for this proposal and described it as “ill-founded”.

He said: “There is ineffective implementation of some measures to stop disease transmission between cattle and between cattle and badgers.

‘If the Republic can do it why can’t we?’

“Most importantly, is the fact that – to-date – no target date for the eradication of this disease has been set, as even control of this disease seems to be 10 years ahead by the most optimistic estimates.

As a body, we do not understand why the Republic of Ireland can reduce the disease problem – while Northern Ireland continues to have an increased incidence of the disease, due to a refusal from Government to adopt the same policy as its counterpart in Ireland.

“If, and when, the department can demonstrate that they are making significant progress in the eradication of this disease – only then should the farming community be asked to contribute to the funding of the programme.

‘Funding failure’

“There is no justification that farmers should be asked to fund failure.

“In terms of the department’s suggestion that farmers should be penalised because they are not doing what they are supposed to do, it is quite frankly the height of hypocrisy to suggest that farmers should contribute to the department – which is not performing its task to make progress on TB; which it has been required to do by the European Commission.”

The sentiment was backed up by several farmers. One man said he had “no faith in the department” with another adding: “It’s time we take the department on.”

AgriLand has contacted DAERA for a response.