Department narrative on TB eradication ‘a reprimand’ for farmers

The “narrative” on the TB Eradication Programme has been described as a “reprimand calculated to whip farmers into submission”.

That’s according to Hugh Farrell, the animal health and welfare chairperson of the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association (ICSA), who claimed that this was supported by a €900,000 cut in TB eradication funding from the EU.

“The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine has allowed a narrative to emerge that we are going in the wrong direction on TB eradication and that it is the fault of the farmer,” Farrell claimed.

We reject this narrative out of hand. In the first instance, the context is that the department, with the explicit support of other stakeholders and a whole-of-Government approach, has set out successive agri-food strategies to expand our food exports based on substantial growth in the national herd.

“The target was to get to €19 billion agri-food exports and, so far, we have surpassed €13 billion, representing over 30% growth in output,” Farrell noted.

He said it was “absurd” that department expenditure on TB was no higher than in 2012.

“You cannot plan for a 30% expansion in agri-food exports on the one hand and then assume that there will be no impact on costs for department programmes, such as on TB,” the ICSA animal health chair argued.

So while the farmer contribution is increasing through testing more animals and through more levies, it is only fair and logical that the department contribution should increase in line with the increase in agri-food exports to about €59 million, all other things being equal.

“There is potentially a case that the department could reduce expenditure through efficiencies and cutting out waste. However, ICSA has asked for a breakdown of where the TB scheme administration budget goes, and we have got no response yet,” Farrell continued.

He noted that a coming review by professional services firm Grant Thornton may shed light on this.

However, Farrell insisted that “the reality is that the loss of €900,000 in EU funding is a side issue compared to the bigger issues about whether the administration of the TB programme is efficient”.

He also argued that farmers “are very frustrated” in areas where deer are present.