Calls mount for TB testing to be ‘put on hold’

There are mounting calls for TB testing to be pushed back by up to three months in the interests of protecting farmers during the Covid-19 emergency.

At present, the latest guidelines from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine state that if an animal cannot be tested without adhering to social distancing rules, then it should not be tested. The department has also said that if a test cannot be carried out, it may be delayed.

While the department has stated that the “health of farmers, vets and all concerned are the priority at all times”, Hugh Farrell, the animal health chairperson of the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association (ICSA), believes the risk to farmers is “too high” at present.

You had the Taoiseach coming out and calling for a shut down of businesses and movements and everything. And on the other hand then, the Department of Agriculture is prepared to go ahead with farm testing.

“Instead of the [previous] test lasting for 12 months, it could be pushed out to 15 months – so over the next three months. A few months is not going to matter now because cattle are still housed to a certain extent and it can be contained,” Farrell told AgriLand.

Farrell also contends that affected farmers should be permitted to send animals for slaughter and for export if their test date is pushed back.

He is also concerned about a potential risk to farmers’ health.

He continued: “We have to be practical here. This is not a toy farm or a model farm. We have to be realistic about where we are going with this. If you take any job, it doesn’t matter what it is, if you’re sick for a month, someone can be taken on temporarily for that period.

“But if somebody on a farm gets sick with this virus, nobody is going to come in on a farm where there is somebody sick. There is also a welfare issue for animals there,” Farrell argued.

I have sons of my own and their priority is to mind their own families and get them through this safely. They’re not going to come down and chance bringing something back to their children. I can’t expect a neighbour to come over and do a bit of work here, and risk him getting sick then.

“The department’s big word is biosecurity. In this case the biosecurity is for the farmers themselves, to keep them safe, so the farmer will be there to run the business down the road,” the ICSA animal health chairperson stressed.

“If the farmer is taken out, it’s a family affected. Everything else in the country has come to a stop. I’m calling on the Department of Agriculture to respect the farmer, to give them space and to stop all testing for now,” he urged.

Farrell claims to have received many phone calls from concerned farmers on the issue in recent days.

Routine farm visits suspended

Meanwhile, earlier this morning, Tuesday, March 31, Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Michael Creed confirmed that there would be a fortnight-long suspension on routine visits on-farm.

“For the next two weeks routine departmental on-farm visits will not be taking place, unless required on a risk basis,” the minister explained.

He added: “Essential services, such as disease control or reactor removal, will continue. This will be kept under review as the situation evolves.”