We need a meaningful all-island animal health policy

COMMENT: This week will see Ireland’s two agriculture minister meeting up at a cross-border summit to be held in Armagh.

No doubt, issues such as the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) Reform and the anticipated growth of the agri-food sectors – North and South – will be on the agenda. One matter that, hopefully, won’t get overlooked in their discussions is the absolute necessity of setting out a coherent, all-island animal health strategy for the future.

The current two speed approach to the eradication of BVD, which sees Northern Ireland trailing in the wake of the progress being made in the Republic, is an example of how a disjointed approach to disease control fails to meet the requirements of both regions. 

Looking down the further track, the eradication of Johne’s Disease is a challenge, which the two jurisdictions must address with equal fortitude in the very near future.  The reality is that animal disease neither recognises nor respects land borders.

It was interesting that Vincent Carton, managing director of the Carton Brothers poultry operation, publicly questioned the Government’s inability to prevent the cross-border movement of poultry litter given the ongoing outbreak of ILT in Northern Ireland. Pointing out that litter is a potential source of the disease, he was, quite rightly, making the case for his own industry.

Animal disease has numerous implications for the agri-food sector. At individual farm level, performance is reduced while animal welfare standards are compromised.  And, of course, with consumers all over the world now intensely interested in how the food they eat is produced, anything that can serve to besmirch the image of a country’s agri-food sector can have dramatic economic consequences.

The good news is that the island of Ireland has a good track record in getting g to grips with certain animal diseases. The handling of Aujeszky’s and Brucellosis are two good examples in this regard. But this work represents only the start of a process that must be allowed to gain significant momentum in the very near future.

Both agriculture ministers have made numerous public commitments in regard to the development of all island policies that will benefit farmers and food processing businesses throughout Ireland. Getting to grip with the obvious animal disease challenges that confront both industries would seem like an obvious start to this process.

Our island status is the obvious ace card in the pack, when it comes to tackling these matters. Surely the all-island eradication of BVD, Johne’s and –let’s thrown in IBR for good measure – is an attainable objective by 2020.

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