Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Tuesday, 1 October 2019
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine
TB Eradication Programme: Discussion
Mr. Joe Healy:
The IFA provides for direct engagement and support services to farmers who experience difficulties on their farms, including issues associated with the current TB programme. The TB eradication programme implemented in Ireland remains the single largest animal health cost for Irish farmers each year. Since the implementation of the wildlife control programme in the early 2000s, significant progress has been achieved. Unfortunately, the ever-increasing burden of additional controls imposed by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine on farmers has contributed to increased costs and losses for those experiencing breakdowns or contiguous to breakdowns.
For the current programmes the total direct costs provided by the Department are just over €90 million per annum. This costing does not include the enormous labour cost associated with the TB programme for farmers, which the IFA estimates at a further €20 million annually. Irish farmers contribute a total of €55 million each year to the TB programme - €27 million in annual TB testing costs, in excess of €7 million in disease levies, and €20 million in labour - when facilitating the testing of more than 9 million animal tests a year and implementing the disinfection protocols following a disease outbreak. In contrast, for the €55 million investment, farmers receive only just over €18 million in compensation for animal and production loss and maintenance costs. Between 2012 and 2018, the level of farmers' direct contribution to the programme increased by 15%, from €30.641 million to more than €35 million annually, while over the same period, the level of contribution from the national Exchequer has reduced from €45.825 million to €45.536 million and the contribution from the EU has reduced from €11.085 million to €9.748 million.
Farmers in Northern Ireland, Scotland, England and Wales do not pay for annual TB tests or contribute to disease levies. They receive similar compensation to Irish farmers with the exception of €3.5 million in consequential loss and hardship grant scheme payments, which are unique to the Irish programme.
Eradication of the disease within the shortest feasible timeframe must be the objective. With this in mind, the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Marine, Deputy Creed, established the TB forum involving all stakeholders to develop a strategy to achieve eradication by 2030.
The IFA agreed to participate in the forum on the basis it provided the platform to have the key issues and shortcomings of the current programme addressed for farmers. These issues were identified and outlined to the Minister in advance of the forum being established and have been raised directly at the forum meetings by the IFA. They are addressing the shortcomings in the compensation schemes; and reviewing the effectiveness of existing controls.
The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine in written communication to the forum, stated it would not support increased compensation for farmers in the TB programme. This clearly shows a lack of understanding from the Minister and his officials of the impact the TB programme continues to have on the livelihoods of farmers and their families, which arises through no fault of their own.
The forum's report to the Minister proposes additional controls and costs on farms with no proposal to reduce the enormous cost burden of the programme for farmers.