‘Breakdown of TB policy needs urgent ministerial intervention’ – ICSA

The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Charlie McConalogue, is being urged to “immediately reconvene” the TB Forum and to chair it himself.

According to the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association (ICSA), “the TB risk letters debacle is a sign of how the TB Forum has been derailed”.

The ICSA animal health and welfare chairperson Hugh Farrell was referring to the TB Herd History Risk Statements and Reports, which have recently been sent out to farmers, generating much anger and concern.

It is now essential that Minister McConalogue gets to grips with the TB programme which is at risk of losing all support from farmers.

Farrell rejected apparent comments from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine that the TB risk letters were agreed to at the TB Forum, saying: “The breakdown in TB policy between farmers and officials now needs urgent ministerial intervention.

“This is down to the fact that most of the proposals from farmer representatives have been ignored, whereas department officials are driving on with dubious actions such as explicit herd categorisation, which had been categorically rejected at the forum,” Farrell added.

The ICSA animal health and welfare chairperson insisted that department claims that the letters do not require farmers to do anything “are absurd…when the letters clearly advise farmers to cull cattle”.

It is obvious the department knows it is on thin ice because its actions go so far beyond what was even discussed, let alone agreed to at the forum.

Farrell also reiterated ongoing concerns over data protection, arguing that it was possible for one farmer to determine the TB risk status of another farmer from whom he bought stock.

He went on to highlight other “failures” by the department when it comes to TB.

“Even though it was agreed that reactors would always be removed within seven days of agreed valuation, we are still getting reports that this target is not being met consistently,” Farrell claimed.

There are also complaints about how inconclusives are being dealt with. We need a clear message about what protocols apply to inconclusives and this must only apply to current inconclusives.

“[We] do not accept that an animal that has subsequently passed one or more tests can still be regarded as inconclusive. Likewise, it does not inspire confidence in testing if we are now being told that an animal that is consistently testing clear should be culled because, once upon a time, it was in a herd where there was a reactor.”

Farrell concluded his remarks by saying: “Meanwhile, there is complete frustration about the inadequacies of a badger vaccination programme. Unless we have a commitment to dealing with wildlife spread, that would include deer as well…there is no point in all of these contentious pronouncements and actions by the department.”