The Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) has said that bovine tuberculosis (bTB) is costing Northern Ireland more and more each year.

A recent stakeholder working group of the Department for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) was informed that the cost of the bTB eradication programme now sits at over £45 million annually for the 2021/22 financial year, the union said.

The longer it takes for the implementation of the revised bTB eradication strategy, the union added, the more money it is costing taxpayers.

The cost of the bTB programme in 2022/23 is forecast to be in the region of £48 million, according to the UFU.

President of the UFU, David Brown, said: “Over the last ten years the cost of bTB has increased. By April 2023 (end of the financial year), it is projected to have cost the taxpayer an additional £17.1 million.

“These costs do not take into account any of the lost revenue incurred on farms, let alone the stress that farm families are subjected to when they lose livestock to bTB,” he added.

“At the end of October 2022, the herd incidence level for bTB reached 9.95%. The only time it ever briefly exceeded this percentage was following the Foot and Mouth outbreak 20 years ago.

“Farmers across Northern Ireland are eager to adopt a different strategy to reduce bTB levels for the benefit of their animals and the environment. This was highlighted by the overwhelming support and strong turnout at the recent bTB information roadshows that took place across Northern Ireland,” he said.

“Yes, DAERA has a key role to play in all of this, but Northern Irish farmers recognise they do too, and they can only do so much with the limited tools that are available at present.”

Brown said that the UFU has committed a huge amount of time and resources to driving the bTB strategy forward and continue to work to put in it place.

“We’ve been liaising with the two expert working groups that have been working on this new eradication strategy,” he said.

The TB Strategic Partnership Group (TBSPG) was established in 2014 and TBEP (TB Eradication Partnership) was launched at Balmoral Show in 2018, and now, we have a finalised strategy that has followed the science sitting there ready to go.

“Meanwhile, the absence of meaningful action continues to yield huge financial losses, causing emotional devastation on Northern Ireland’s farms.”

“We need to get the revised strategy in place urgently so that farmers can use every measure within the policy to help eradicate the disease from Northern Ireland once and for all, benefitting the environment and wildlife, strengthening the sustainability of our agri-food industry as well as freeing up monies so that it can be utilised for other causes benefiting everyone in society.”