Actions for TB eradication must be sensitive for farmers’ needs and take into account the scale of losses incurred by farmers hit with the disease, the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association (ICSA) contends.

ICSA Animal Health and Welfare committee chairman Hugh Farrell has said that ICSA wants the TB stakeholder forum to recognise the huge burden the disease has imposed on farmers.

Speaking ahead of the inaugural meeting due to take place this week (Wednesday, September 5), Farrell said that, while total eradication by 2030 was the key objective, this can only be achieved with a properly-funded programme which tackles all causes.

The forum must help chart a future direction that will be sensitive to farmers’ needs while being effective in terms of TB eradication.

Farrell said that there can be no let-up on wildlife sources. “The role of wildlife is integral to any strategy to eliminate TB.

“We therefore caution against moving too quickly to badger vaccination over badger culling. The ICSA also insists that in counties such as Wicklow, control and culling of wild deer will be essential if we are serious about the 2030 target.”

On plans to display herd TB history, Farrell was adamant that: “ICSA opposes herd health history being displayed in marts because it would undermine the business of such farmers.”

The ICSA chair is also insistent that the independence and expertise of valuers should be respected by the Department of Agriculture.

“The department has recourse to a second opinion as do farmers and any other pressure on valuers is unacceptable.

The value of top-quality suckler and dairy cows, show-calibre stock and pedigree animals cannot be ascertained by looking at average mart prices.

“We are very concerned that some valuers feel under pressure from the department when valuing these kind of stock,” the chairman said.

Regarding the funding of the programme, Farrell said that the costs of the programme ignore the very real costs imposed on farmers.

“An outbreak of TB causes immense loss, as well as stress, for farmers. However, the department figures on the cost of the programme do not calculate the cost in terms of time for farmers caused by the annual herd test requirement.

The ICSA conservatively estimates that this costs farmers in the order of €12.5 million per annum to cover the labour costs of rounding up the herd and putting the animals through the crush each year.

“In addition, farmers contribute about €32 million per annum in testing charges and the BDE levy. The eradication of TB is not just a benefit to farmers but to the wider economy and this should be reflected in public funding.”

The ICSA will also be calling for a better hardship fund for farmers and more flexibility around payments, which are currently restricted to winter months, according to the organisation.

“As we have seen this year, not being able to sell stock can be a very costly business when grass growth stops.”