The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine has adopted an approach of “bury its head in the sand” to the issue of TB and deer.

That’s according to the general secretary of the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association (ICSA) Eddie Punch, who spoke yesterday (Tuesday, March 9) at the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture.

According to Punch, the information and research out there at present shows that the positivity rate in deer “is equivalent to that in cattle”.

Obviously it’s a problem in the cattle herd, but with the same positivity rate, the department doesn’t see deer as a problem. That’s just an unsustainable position, and it has to be tackled. Unless it is tackled we won’t make progress.

Punch told the TDs and senators that, after a meeting with Coillte a number of years ago on deer coming on to farmland from its properties in Wicklow, the forestry body “didn’t seem to have the good neighbour attitude”.

“A company that is making in excess of €100 million in earnings not having the price of being able to fence their lands is just not acceptable,” he argued.

Herd expansion

The ICSA general secretary also indicated that herd expansion is tied to increasing TB reactor numbers.

Where someone sells along an established suckler herd and then buys in a dairy herd from multiple different sources you are going to have problems of a whole array of diseases in terms of immunity in the early stages.

“In particular, if you have very large herds it is clear-cut that an outbreak of TB will lead to a lot more reactors.

“All of these things are explaining the reason why we have an increase in reactors in the last couple of years,” Punch argued.


He also raised questions over the approximate €35 million funding for the TB Eradication Programme that is provided by farmers – specifically, where that money is going.

“We have been asking repeatedly – and we would urge members of the Oireachtas to do this as well – for a breakdown of how the department explains the €35 million they say they are spending on the programme.

I think the issue here is one of what you might call relevant costs. Yes, the department can link a whole lot of staff to the TB programme and say the cost of that staff adds up to €35 million. But the real question might be if there was no TB, would all of the €35 million disappear, and I don’t think it would.

“We would have a big question mark over how the department is spending the €35 million and what does that consist of, and if there was no TB would that cost disappear overnight. I think not,” Punch remarked.

He also highlighted that farmers “contribute a lot of free labour to TB eradication by the amount of effort they put into herd testing on an annual basis”.

Concluding his remarks to the committee, Punch said, in answer to a question from independent TD Michael Fitzmaurice, that the issuing of TB herd risk letters last year – which was heavily criticised by farm organisations – was a “solo-run” by the department, and was “not agreed with the farm organisations”.