Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Tuesday, 1 October 2019
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine
TB Eradication Programme: Discussion
Mr. Hugh Farrell:
Deputy Cahill asked numerous questions. Selling young stock into feedlots is an issue I brought up because many of them are worth very little. Feedlots are generally buying strong cattle that will finish within 90 or 100 days and do not have risk attaching to them. These ones here are taking the full risk. Compensation, as was being spoken about, needs to be put in place where they are valued and sold in as if they were going down a reactor into a feedlot status. On the other hand, perhaps compensation should be in place for feeding the remaining cattle on the farm, if they are young, if it is a suckler herd or a calf-to-store system. They do not have the option of selling on. It would preferably be compensation on going to a feedlot status and valuing a cow the same as a reactor would be valued.
The live valuation system was great when it was brought in and I question the changes that have been made in recent years. There was a lot of resistance at the forum, more than there was at bilateral meetings. Some €500,000 might be spent by the Department just gathering information. The valuers are qualified people, doing their jobs, like anyone else who is doing a job. They are able to do the job they are licensed to do and that should be acceptable. We have to accept farmers in a mart who are selling for us or whoever else, so the Department should not be questioning their valuations. They are questioning the capability of those people as a trader or valuer. We should not be tolerating that. It is costing the taxpayer far more than it is gaining money for them.
Badger vaccinations are in certain counties at present. They were perhaps supposed to have contributed a bit to the outbreak in Monaghan. We are not sure of that, but it was mentioned at the time. The vaccine is being given to the badgers that have been snared. A vet then has to try to come out and give them that vaccine, and maybe an anaesthetic as well in case someone gets hurt.
All of that needs to be addressed. The vaccine being administered is not freely available within the EU. If it was, then anyone could administer it. A proper cage or the like would save a lot of expense and may be more appropriate. Another issue is that, when badgers receive a vaccination, an anaesthetic is used and they are left to recover, but hypothermia can set in during the winter or cold weather and some may die. Since they have been given a live vaccine, a concern is that the cattle around them will pick it up. We do not know enough about this. Our greatest fear about administering a live vaccine has to do with the fact that the badger itself has never been tested, which means that we do not know whether it is carrying the disease. If it is given the live vaccine on top of the disease, is that only spreading the disease further? I do not know whether live vaccinations area good idea.
A deer cull was mentioned. We have been pushing hard on this matter for a long time. Some €3.5 million of the TB fund is being given to the wildlife section. That section never sat on the forum at any stage. It never spoke for itself. The Department spoke for it instead. It is us - the ICSA - who need to take responsibility. First, the wildlife section should control the number of deer in the country regardless of disease. Second, deer are spreading the disease. As we have heard around the table at this meeting, they are seen as contributing to it everywhere - Clare, Tipperary, Cork and even Mayo. This needs to be taken into account. There needs to be a project, just as there was in respect of badgers in Offaly, to identify and deal with the issue. The Department needs to take responsibility for the deer situation.
In terms of the 3% or 4%, if there is a TB breakdown but a farm gets two clear herd tests, then it must automatically wait for six months until the next test. At least, that is what farmers always believed. I know of a man who went clear in November. In January, he got a new letter stating that he would have a test by 3 February, but he had until 3 July. Once 3 February came around, his herd was automatically locked down again even though he did not get a six-month break. His income supplement was cut off because he was classed as having a clear herd. A six-month break following two clear tests was always the wording used to describe a clear herd. The herd has to be identified and the status needs to be removed. Either a herd is clear or it is not. People's incomes are being destroyed. One is told that one has a window of two or three months in which to sell animals. In his case, it was Christmas time and early January so there were no sales. If he had gone looking to sell, the prices would have been bad. The current timeline is unrealistic and must be reconsidered. We must examine this issue and revert to the previous situation. I do not know from where the law came. It is not on the regular books.
I agree about carrying the cost of pre-movement testing. We will push that matter further.
Senator Daly mentioned the TB forum. I thought it was valuable to a certain extent. It opened different views or doors. Perhaps Mr. Punch will elaborate further. There were groups with different vested interests around the table. As time went on, we found that, where compensation or other real issues were concerned, only a certain element of people were willing to take money out of their own pockets - the farmer, the Department and the EU. Why were veterinary, wildlife, forestry and other bodies, including Bord Bia, around the table when they were putting nothing into the programme? They were able to help determine where the forum went. That needs to be addressed. The forum needs to be tightened up so that more people can have a say on the issue and the forum can continue.