ICSA ‘furious’ over TB herd history letters

The Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association (ICSA) has heavily criticised the decision by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine to issue TB herd history risk statements to farmers.

Hugh Farrell, the association’s animal health and welfare chairperson, claimed: “The department has essentially taken it upon itself to bring in herd categorisation by the back door.

“This is not acceptable, not only from a GDPR [data protection] perspective, but because the department is increasingly showing no regard for the TB Forum negotiations, which unequivocally did not agree to this under any circumstances,” Farrell added.

In particular, the information sets out the risk category in relation to the herds a farmer bought stock from. While no names are used, it is clear that for the vast majority of farmers who buy in stock from a limited number of sources, it will be easy to identify the risk category of the sellers.

“For this reason, the department may well have to answer serious questions around GDPR. Moreover, the move will inevitably lead to the devaluation of herds,” the ICSA animal health chair argued.

He highlighted that this was being “foisted on farmers” while issues relating to compensation are yet to be addressed.

The potential of this information to seriously devalue herds has been unleashed with no protection afforded to farmers.

The ICSA also objected to a line in the letter which apparently says that a herd cannot be considered closed if the farmer brings unsold cattle back from the mart.

“This is an extraordinary statement which ICSA finds objectionable on several levels. We have not seen any scientific research to underpin this. Worse, it will be seen as an assault on the mart trade and will interfere with the right of a seller to decide whether a fair price is being offered,” Farrell insisted.

It is tantamount to dragging farmers back to the days of the fair where they were vulnerable to being short-changed.

Farrell also hit out at the 10-year ‘look-back’ period for examining a herd’s TB history, saying: “It is extremely dubious to suggest that an incidence of TB 10 years ago has any relevance to a herd today. I can’t think of any other scenario where there is a 10-year ‘look-back’. Even Revenue doesn’t go back that far.”

Finally, Farrell reiterated the ICSA’s “frustration” by the department’s seeming lack of focus on wild deer; and its “incremental moves towards badger vaccination rather than targeted culling”.

“This letter has seriously set back the prospect of a collaborative approach to the TB programme and will be met with farmer fury. Farmers are already asking me if this has been slipped through in the absence of a minister in the department, and it will be a key agenda item for whoever is appointed,” he concluded.