The Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association (ICSA) has claimed that there is “no willingness” to listen to the concerns of farmers at the TB Stakeholders Forum.

Hugh Farrell, the association’s animal health and welfare chairperson, argued that new proposed testing requirements are “a ticking time bomb”, and he called on Minster for Agriculture, Food and Marine Charlie McConalogue to intervene in the issue.

New TB testing rules will require animals to be tested for TB within 30 days of being sold if more than six months has passed since their most recent test.

These rules were initially set to come into effect last year but were deferred. They will now come into effect from February, Farrell told Agriland.

The changes, if implemented as they currently stand, could see farmers potentially requiring more than one TB test on their animals per year even without a positive test result.

However, the question over who pays for these additional tests has been a constant bone of contention for farm organisations.

Farrell called on Minister McConalogue and his department to explain how they are going to finance additional tests, adamantly rejecting that farmers should be required to pay for two.

“[We] have always been insistent that farmers pay for one annual herd test only. However, [we] have been left exasperated by the department’s refusal to engage with us on how any additional mandatory testing would be financed.”

“That a farmer is responsible for payment for one annual herd test has always been a fundamental principle of the TB Eradication Programme. Minister McConalogue must now step forward and come clean on whether this long-standing principle is to be thrown in the bin,” Farrell remarked.

According to the ICSA animal health chair, the “finer details” of the new testing regime have not been signed-off on by the TB Forum, including the issue of who will pay.

“We have seen this repeatedly, whereby any financial considerations are relentlessly long fingered by the department. It could be in relation to income supplement, hardship grants, or unfair compensation caps, but the pattern remains the same – the department refusing to engage,” he argued.

“It is clear now that Minister McConalogue needs to have an honest dialogue with farmers. Does he expect them to pay for additional TB testing or not?”

Farrell also highlighted that the proposed new changes “lack all clarity” on whether the buyer or seller is responsible for testing.

He also noted that some farmers had interpreted the rules to mean that all herds would require twice-yearly testing, which is not the case.