Concerns over lack of farmer representation on TB Forum’s science group

Following a meeting of the TB Stakeholder Forum yesterday (Thursday, February 4), concerns have been raised over a lack of farmer representation on one of the three working groups that are to be established under the forum.

These three groups are: an implementation group; a finance group; and a science group. While farmer representation has been agreed to for the former two, the science group does not yet have guaranteed farmer representation.

These concerns were raised after the meeting by Hugh Farrell, the animal health chairperson of the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association (ICSA).

Farrell said that he hoped the establishment of the three groups would be beneficial, but that “farmers must have representation on all three”.

He also said he was disappointed to hear that science and implementation would be separate, saying: “What’s on the ground has a big impact on the issue – time of year; calving; stocking density; and immune systems.”

The ICSA animal health chair added: “The partnership between farmers and the department has to change, so that farmers’ opinions are taken on board.”

On a separate but related point, Farrell argued that: “The decision-making needs to be between the farmers; the department; and the minister himself.”

Continuing on the point of Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Charlie McConalogue, Farrell was keen to praise the minister on the amount of concern he appears to be devoting to the TB issue.

“We welcome the minister’s input on the TB Forum. He has attended all three meetings since he took over. An urgency to get things done is shown,” Farrell said.

Minister’s remarks

The minister, for his part, told the forum (in its first meeting after the publication of the new TB eradication strategy): “Implementation of the strategy will be supported by the ongoing oversight of the forum.

“Each working group has an important role to play to ensure all aspects of the strategy are addressed. Extensive consultation with stakeholders will underpin success,” he added.

Minister McConalogue continued: “The strategy sets out an ambitious work programme which will ultimately benefit Irish farmers. No farmer wants to endure a TB restriction and unfortunately we’re still seeing around 90 new farms a week being restricted. I want to see this number fall significantly over the coming years.

2020 saw the highest rates of TB in a decade and increased programme expenditure related to that. There is a massive emotional and financial burden to TB, so we need to see it delivering results.

However, he highlighted that the publication of the strategy is “only the first step of the journey”.

“I now want to see a continued urgency in implementing the measures outlined in the strategy and encourage the various working groups to meet as soon as possible to get this underway,” the minister remarked.