Bovine tuberculosis (TB) in Ireland has now reached a point where a “different” approach is needed to tackle the disease, according to the secretary general of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM), Brendan Gleeson.

The incidence of TB is increasing and now stands at 5.13% compared to 4.89% this time last year, according to Gleeson who told the Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine this is a “real concern”.

“It is a really significant issue. We are at the point now where we have to do something different. If we just keep doing the same thing and expect different results, that’s not a great way to proceed,” Gleeson said.

At the moment, the DAFM is “reflecting” on what it “might do” to tackle the disease and it intends to engage with farm bodies on this, he said. The DAFM already engages with farm bodies on the issue through the TB Forum.

Stressing that 95% of herds in Ireland are not affected by TB, Gleeson said in response to the matter raised by Senator Paul Daly at the committee meeting yesterday (Wednesday, July 4), “we really have to work hard to protect the 95%”.

“We have to work with people who have chronic problems to make sure they manage it better and reduce their risk, and we have to help people to understand their own risk better.

“We have to help people understand that there are measures they can take, whether it is in terms of buying in animals, or in terms of protecting their farm from wildlife. We have to take some of those measures,” Gleeson said.

TB eradication programme

Fine Gael spokesperson on Agriculture, Food and the Marine in the Seanad, Tim Lombard questioned the terminology of Ireland’s Bovine TB Eradication Scheme which started in 1954, saying the disease will “probably never be eradicated” in Ireland.

He said it will be about “controlling” rather than eradicating the disease, stressing that deer are a “huge issue” in some parts of the country, as well as badgers. “Without controlling wildlife, we won’t be able to control this issue itself,” he added.

In terms of terminology, Gleeson said it has to be an “eradication” programme. However, he said in Ireland we still have “a low level of a very persistent disease that is very difficult to deal with and transmits between animals, including wildlife and cows”.