Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Tuesday, 1 October 2019
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine
TB Eradication Programme: Discussion
I am conscious that one or two statements have been made that will cause concern to consumers. A huge amount of money has been spent on TB eradication over 70 years. I think back to the eradication of brucellosis which was achieved by taking hard decisions and farmers having to spend a serious amount of money. Thankfully, we did get rid of it. It is fairly certain that if we continue what we are doing in the same way, we will not get rid of TB.
I wish to refer to a number of areas where I see huge difficulties with the scheme, as it stands, and where farmers suffer huge losses. Young stock must be sold to feedlots. We have live valuation of reactors, but I know of a couple of cases in my constituency in which the price offered for young stock is derisory and there is no comeback.
Thankfully, fodder is extremely plentiful as we head into winter, but many farmers do not have the infrastructure to carry young stock through it. They do not have slurry storage facilities or a way to carry stock through it physically, even if there was enough food available. If stock must be sold from a farm where there are reactors, there is a need to have a proper evaluation system.
The live valuation system agreed to ten or 12 years ago is not the same as what is being implemented now. There is most definitely too much departmental interference. The live valuation system should be independent. It was introduced to give what the animal would make at the mart on a given day. The categorisation of animals bears similarity to the beef grid. It is a way of reducing the payments made for animals. The live valuation system for reactors must be independent.
Badger vaccination has been mentioned. Approximately 20 years ago there was a pilot project was in County Offaly and the results were remarkable. The incidence of TB was greatly reduced. Badger vaccination must be stepped up and increased. If we are serious, we must stop badgers from being a transmitter of the disease.
I have raised the issue of deer culling on numerous occasions and cannot understand the Department's attitude to dear. Yesterday I read in a newspaper that concerns had been raised about the amount of deer culling taking place and the figure of 41,000 was given. I do not know whether it is accurate, but farmers in west Wicklow would have been delighted to see that figure. A substantial number of farmers in west Wicklow have stopped keeping bovine animals because they could never be clear of the disease. There are no longer statistics for the system because they do not have cattle to test. The only conclusion on the Department to which I can come is that it is putting its head in the sand because of the cost of deer culling.
We will have a debate later on the amount of forestry we need because of climate change. Forestry brings its own livestock and wildlife challenges and deer are definitely among them. I have been on farms where there have been major breakdowns in the past 18 months and a large number of reactors have been taken out. In all cases deer had grazed on the farms in previous months. To say, therefore, that deer are not an issue is to ignore the reality. The number of post mortems carried out on deer is extremely low. Where they are carried out TB shows up. If the rate is 3% or 4%, it is more than enough to cause the spread of TB throughout the country. Deer travel over vast distances. They can travel ten or 12 miles without any problem. It is said badgers carry the disease and that deer transmit it, but it does not matter. They are a vehicle for spreading the disease. Therefore, if we are serious about controlling TB, the deer issue must be tackled.
If a herd is classified as being clear of TB, it is clear of it and there should be no second-class status when it comes to selling animals. If there was TB in a herd six or 12 months ago and there have been two clear tests since, no other question marks should be placed over that herd. If the Department is placing a question mark over it, we should look at the Department's door because if it had done its job correctly and the source of the infection had been cleared out, it would not be an issue.
To go back to the eradication of brucellosis, it was the pre-movement test that helped to get rid of it.
The pre-movement test got brucellosis out of the country. I see in the submissions of both groups mention that cattle that are six months post testing should be subject to a pre-movement test. I would accept that as long as the Department carries the cost of it. What we have been doing until now has reduced instances of TB to a certain level but no further. There is a 12-month period, after a test, for a person to sell his or her animals. If the Department thinks this initiative can bring about a significant improvement, let it carry the cost. It might be money well spent in the short term. It will actually probably increase the number of reactors in the short term, but if the Department think this is a tool worth having, let it carry the cost of it.
The testing would obviously create an inconvenience for farmers. Brucellosis was dealt with in the past at a serious cost and inconvenience, but we got rid of brucellosis and enjoy brucellosis-free status. Some people said to us in the past that we would never achieve that status, but strenuous and rigorous testing got to it. It cost farmers a fortune to get rid of it but it was successfully got rid of. If the Department feels that cattle, six months after the test, are posing a risk to the health of the national herd, it should carry the cost of the pre-movement test. I would like to see instances of cattle that have been moved into another herd and shown up as reactors, coming from a clean herd. If that is the view of the Department, I would not rule it out completely as long as it carries the cost.