Genetics is key for animal health and ultimately profit for suppliers and processors.

This is according to Joe Flaherty, chief executive of Animal Health Ireland (AHI), who speaking at last night’s Slaney Foods beef and animal health seminar in Carlow.

The seminar heard of the pilot project that currently under way at Slaney Foods where animal health real-time information is shared back to the farmer, processor and relevant vet.

In addition, that key information is logged on to a new national disease genetic database with the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation (ICBF).

Many stakeholders, including Teagasc, the ICBF and AHI among others are driving this knowledge transfer and Wexford-based meat processor Slaney Foods is leading the way.

According to Flaherty: “We would like to see this pilot rollout to meat factories across the country and to involve all meat processors over time.”

He continued: “This is a particularly exciting project. When you think of the sperm and egg, and the huge amount of unlocked potential before fertilisation takes place on a diary or beef animal, and before the entire production side rolls.

What really unlocks potential is good genetics, good nutrition and good animal health.”

He compared animal health as the ‘Cinderalla’ of Irish agriculture.

“We have not given sufficient attention to animal health and one of the objectives of AHI is to bring that attention. It is an extremely important issue.”

He outlined AHI’s four key areas of focus: the national BVD eradication programme, its CellCheck mastitis initiative and its IBR drive, which is at the early stage of development. In addition its Johne’s disease programme for dairy herds is proving very popular and it is set to be extended to suckler herds over time, he added.

Other AHI programmes, which are not as costly but are equally important, include calf care and parasite control among others.

“Disease costs farmers a huge amount of money,” stressed the AHI ceo to more than 150 suppliers at Slaney Foods’ seminar in Mount Wolseley Hotel.

He explained further.  “BVD costs farmers more than €100m per annum. We need to get a handle on this disease and eradicate it. With mastitis its costs more than €80m a year.”

In addition, he said research from Veterinary Ireland has found that liver fluke is  costing the industry some €90m a year.

In terms of the knowledge transfer pilot which is under way, key real-time information, such as a Liver Fluke or pneumonia diagnosis is captured and fed back to the meat processor, the vet, the supplier/farmer and the ICBF.

“What is new is that we are now feeding this information back into the ICBF database. We are starting to capture on a national level key information and when we start to get the data from Slaney, ABP, Dawn Meats and all the other processors, we will start to generate a real pool of information.”

In terms of supplier advantages, Flaherty outlined that animal health information will automatically in real-time go to the supplier’s vet.

“So if you have an issue with live fluke, you will get back targeted information and your vet will be getting the information at the same time.”

On the overall aim of the pilot project, the AHI ceo stressed that animal health is heritable.

“In other words different breeding lines will have different susceptibility for disease. So in order to make decisions on that and to generate changes in the economic breeding index we need  enormous data. This involves capturing information from all meat factories into a common database.

And over time that will make common information available in the economic database that will allow you as farmers to take breeding decisions and to breed animals that are more genetically resistant to disease.”

He added: “This does not exist in other countries. We have world-class traceability systems, world-class tagging, identification and movement control. There is a huge genetic disease infrastructure to build, to get that knowledge for farmers.”