EU funding for TB programme to dry up in years ahead – department

A senior official in the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine has warned that funding from the EU for the TB Eradication Programme will continue to decline in the coming years, due to deteriorating disease figures.

Colm Forde, a principal officer involved in the eradication programme, said today that funding from the EU is falling year-on-year, resulting in increased exchequer and farmer funding to make up the difference.

Forde explained that the EU has a funding provision for veterinary programmes for the bloc as a whole, with the funding allocated on an annual basis.

TB programmes have accounted for most of that funding for the last number of years but, according to Forde, it is “clear at this point” that the proportion that will be allocated for TB out of the overall “veterinary pot” will be decreasing as time goes on.

One big reason for this is that since the UK left the EU, Ireland is the only country with a significant TB problem. Furthermore, there are other animal diseases, particularly in eastern Europe, that are being treated as higher priorities.

The level of EU funding to Ireland for the TB programme peaked at 12.7 million in 2014, and has been declining ever since.

Each member state is allocated a national ceiling of funding which can be reduced by way of penalties if the progress on handling the disease does not meet expectations.

For 2018, 2019 and, it is expected, for 2020, Ireland has been hit with these penalties. There was a 10% penalty on funding for 2018 – amounting to around €1 million – following two successive years of deteriorating figures. In recent months, the European Commission confirmed a further penalty of 10% for 2019 – amounting to around €800,000.

In fact, according to Forde, the commission had initially indicated that no funding at all would be allocated for 2020, until Forde and other officials met with commission officials in December 2019 to defend Ireland’s TB programme.

While the commission relented, it nonetheless decided to reduce the national ceiling for Ireland’s funding from €7.3 million to €5.4 million for 2020.

Not only that, but the continuing rise in TB statistics this year will entail a 20% cut, rather than the previous 10%, for a further reduction of over €1 million.

EU has ‘limited patience’

Forde said that the department expects EU funding post 2020 to be “very limited”.

“Or optimism on that front is very limited. We’re one seat around a table with 26 others, and with the UK gone – who was our major supporter in seeking TB funding – no other country has a significant problem,” he explained.

When the EU provides funding for an eradication programme, they see that as a short-to-medium term programme over five to 10 years. Our programme has being going on a lot longer than that, and I think it [the commission] has limited patience for our incremental level of progress.

“Reputationally, as a country that exports 90% of its agri-food produce, if we don’t get sanction for EU funding, that isn’t a positive message,” Forde highlighted.

Cost for 2020

This shortfall will have to be made up through exchequer funding and farmer contributions.

The department is expecting the TB programme to cost around €96 million in 2020. This is an increase of around €4.6 million on the 2019 figure. The difference is largely down to more compensation payments and the department taking on more personnel to work on the programme.

The 2020 funding of €96 million is broken down as follows:

  • Exchequer funding – €55 million to €56 million;
  • Farmers – €34.8 million (made up of round tests and bovine disease levies);
  • EU funding – €5.42 million.

The funding for 2020 will be almost €15 million higher than in 2015. This increase, according to the department, is down to deteriorating disease trends since then, resulting in increased spending for compensation, testing and supplies.