Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine

Animal Health Ireland Strategic Plan 2015 to 2017: Discussion

4:00 pm

Photo of Jackie CahillJackie Cahill (Tipperary, Fianna Fail) | Oireachtas source

I welcome the delegation. In another life I was involved when Animal Health Ireland was trying to get off the ground. As Senator Lombard said, it has achieved a considerable amount in a short timeframe. While I hope I do not come across as being over-critical, some issues could have been handled better and we need to learn from some of the mistakes made in the initial programmes undertaken by Animal Health Ireland.

There has been huge progress on BVD eradication, we were told we were on a three-year timeframe for the eradication of the disease and that farmers would have to pay for the test for three years. We have gone past that timeframe. Hopefully we can see the end of the road. When does Mr. O'Flaherty believe we will reach the end of the road?

The Department has let us down regarding PIs. The retention of PIs on farm drove farmers around the bend. One farmer might have done everything by the book, but a neighbouring farmer might have been retaining PIs. There has been resentment among farmers who had no PIs for a number of years and then in year three or four of the scheme, they find three or four PIs, which they blame on the retention of PIs. If we are embarking on a scheme in the future, animals need to be removed and that has to be backed up with legislative powers. It is no good relying in the goodwill of farmers to remove these animals. That has not worked well and has left a sour taste. We need to learn from that. If we are operating such a scheme in future, there should be legislative power requiring animals to be moved.

With brucellosis in the past, Northern Ireland was three or four years behind us. When we were trying to get brucellosis-free status, we were a long way ahead of Northern Ireland. There is only a ditch separating farmers from farmers in Northern Ireland. The same seems to be the case with BVD eradication where we seem to be three or four years ahead of Northern Ireland farmers. We should try to co-ordinate it. As we are going to operate a scheme here, Northern Ireland should move in unison with us. When we get to a stage of being able to declare that we are free of BVD or any other disease, we should not be looking over our shoulder in case an outbreak will come from Northern Ireland and hinder the progress we have made.

I ask the delegation to elaborate on IBR. What plans are in place to tackle IBR and move that scheme forward? Obviously there would be huge economic benefit if we could control IBR.

Huge progress has been made on somatic cell count. The farmers' workshops are working extremely well. With the increasing demands of the marketplace we need milk with a somatic cell count below 200,000 cells per millilitre. We have made huge progress in that regard.

There has been a pilot programme on Johne's disease. On the cost and reliability of the test, we need to see where we are going. Johne's disease is a serious issue on many dairy farms. There is always a threat to the product we are producing given that other countries are making inroads on Johne's disease. I would like more flesh on the bones regarding the test for Johne's disease in the first place. When a farmer is engaging on a testing programme on his herd, his confidence in that test is of paramount importance. I would like more information on the reliability and cost of that test.

On the health check and getting information back from abattoirs, that is a low cost way to get vital information back to farmers about how their dosing regime is going with regard to liver fluke and lungworms. That is a very welcome development that can bring vital herd-management information to farmers. We should try to move that forward.

Many of us are using many different vaccinations on our farms at the moment. Does Animal Health Ireland have a view on salmonella? Many dairy farmers are using salmonella vaccinations.

Is there any way we can test whether that farm needs to continue that vaccination programme indefinitely? I was talking to a farmer the other day who just had a breakdown with salmonella. There were abortions in his herd. When one finds out that there is a salmonella outbreak, it is too late for that year. One is going to have significant losses. Must people who are vaccinating keep doing it for forever and a day? Is there a way of showing people who are not doing it that they are exposing themselves to significant potential risk? A lot of work is being done but one can never have enough done for animal health. On the bovine viral diarrhoea, BVD, issue, we need to learn that when starting a scheme in the future, we need to have all the i's dotted and t's crossed. The scheme for Johne's disease, JD, will last for a number of years when we embark on it. We need to be sure that something we say at the start does not turn out to happen as the scheme goes forward in order that farmers' confidence is not undermined.


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