TB levy proposals could raise up to £4.8 million a year

Proposals for an industry-led TB levy could raise up to £4.8 million a year if the maximum £3 per animal was collected.

It’s been proposed that the money would be collected by a body such as Animal Health and Welfare NI and that the money would be used to tackle the spread of the disease in wildlife, through a targeted intervention programme.

Currently, the proposals allow for the money to sit at between £1 and £3 per head – although those leading the charge say they expect the cost will be closer to the lower end proposed.

The proposals have been put forward by Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) members and have just one more committee to pass before they become an official policy.

It’s expected that the union’s executive committee will give the plans the go-ahead tonight.

However, opinion was mixed at the Pedigree Cattle Trust’s TB conference on Thursday night (January 25), with several farmers arguing that the department should foot the bill.

Proposals for departmental cuts

UFU deputy president Victor Chestnutt warned the 200-strong audience that cuts on the horizon to the department’s budget would likely see any Government-led attempt to tackle TB in wildlife put on the back-burner.

He said: “Recently we have seen a spike in TB; on a daily basis my phone rings with farmers who are down for the very first time.

We have a member in the Aghadowey area who has lost more than 100 animals – that would put him out of business. That is completely unacceptable.

“If you accept that cut, where will money go? It goes back into Government and DAERA will have to bid for that money again.

“So, we have taken the decision that we cannot accept compensation cuts.”

Figures

The union has made the calculations based on the department’s projected cost of £630,000 per area.

Chesnutt explained that with 1.6 million cattle in the region, enough to comfortably cover the two proposed zones could be raised with a levy of around £1.25 per animal in Northern Ireland.

However, he added that the final price of the levy had not yet been set – as it depends on how extensive the intervention would be.

Chestnutt added: “55% of Northern Ireland’s farmers have less than 50 animals, 75% have less than 100 animals and 90% have less than 200 animals and 5% have less than 300 animals.

The TB test costs proposed is £3.50 an animal; but, in England they are paying between £4 and £8 an animal – it’s not cheap.

“With 1.6 million animals in Northern Ireland, we said we would be agreeable to raise a levy to a maximum of £3 – although we are hoping it will be closer to a pound.

“1.6 million cows at £3 would raise £4.8 million – now that would surely go a long way towards our problem.”

It’s expected that the programme will take around seven years to complete, meaning the levy is likely to be paid for a similar amount of time.

Options

Chestnutt added: “We fully believe this should be carried out in a humane way and that the people carrying out the work should be trained by DAERA.

“It’s a question of how quickly we want to tackle it in Northern Ireland and in how many places – and according to that will be what the levy has to be.

“We will need to raise significant funds; but, I do believe it’s what farmers want.”