Department narrative on TB costs ‘shows lack of appreciation for farmers’

The Department for Agriculture, Food and the Marine has been criticised for its “persistent narrative” on the costs of the TB Eradication Programme, which the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) claims “fails to properly account for farmers’ input”.

Pat Farrell, the IFA’s animal health chairperson, has argued that there is a “lack of appreciation and respect” for the time and money farmers contribute to the programme.

This, Farrell claimed, was “compounded by the failure to recognise that TB breakdowns on farms are events that are outside the farmer’s control, but it is farmers who are left to carry the burden”.

Figures revealed this week by the department show that the farmer contribution (between round tests and bovine disease levies) will be €34.8 million in 2020, out of a total anticipated funding of around €96 million.

The department has said that a cost benefit analysis of the TB programme is being carried out to inform decisions on future financing. This is due to be completed in October.

Farrell argued that it was “too coincidental that the cost benefit analysis carried out will be published to coincide with the budget, yet the TB Forum members have not received this information and have not been provided with a draft copy for comment and observations”.

According to the IFA, farmers contribute €20 million worth of labour that is not taken into account.

Farrell also claimed that the department was not “providing farmers with meaningful input to the programme design despite contributing this level of funding annually”.

“Minister McConalogue must take control of the situation and engage directly with farmers to agree a programme that will reduce the levels of TB and the impact of the programme on farmers and their families,” he added.

Farrell concluded: “Failure to provide this will jeopardise the current funding model for the programme, as farmer frustrations mount with the attitude of department officials who are clearly basing programme decisions on the advice of administrators whose only interests seem to be programme costs.”

Costs

The department’s figures demonstrate that funding for the TB programme from the EU has fallen by almost €5 million over the last two years.

This is due to penalties imposed on Ireland for deteriorating figures on disease control. With that funding decreasing, farmers and the exchequer have been left to make up the difference.

So far, the exchequer has made up most of that difference, with 2020 exchequer funding set to be around €55 million to €56 million. It remains to be seen what the results of cost benefit analysis will be in relation to this balance in payments between farmers and the exchequer.