Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Tuesday, 1 October 2019

Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine

TB Eradication Programme: Discussion

Mr. Tomás Bourke:

Senator Daly and Deputy Fitzmaurice asked what the IFA's view on the TB forum was. To give some background in advance of the answer, when the Minister announced that he was setting up the forum, the IFA identified the key issues for farmers that it would have to address. Fundamental was addressing the shortcomings in the compensation schemes - the hardship grant, the income supplement scheme and the live valuation scheme. While the objective is to protect the 97% of herds that do not have TB, it cannot impose a higher cost burden on the 3% unfortunate enough to have it. This feeds into the question of how we solve the problem.

We solve the problem by looking after the 3% and focusing the energies and the resources on supporting those men, not by stigmatising their animals or their herds, by categorising them and half-opening the gate to allow them trade with some farmers and not with others. The onus is on the Department to rid that farm of the disease, as Deputy Cahill mentioned, and then allowing free trade.

The IFA's view is that the TB forum has failed farmers because it has failed to address the key areas on their behalf. Furthermore, because of that it has failed to put forward reasonable or necessary control changes to attain the ambitious date of 2030. The interim report published by the forum makes only two recommendations referred to as significant policy changes. One is continuing the wildlife programme, which is already in existence.

In response to Senator Daly's question about what we would see as the most effective changes, there has been a lack of focus on proactively preventing outbreaks caused by wildlife. That includes deer and badger that are being disturbed and stressed throughout the country by road developments, wind farms, afforestation and deforestation. They cause outbreaks downstream in the places they move to. As a result, farms throughout the country have new outbreaks every year. If we are serious about eradicating TB, we have to stop new outbreaks occurring. The Department must focus proactively in these areas and reduce the density of wildlife that is susceptible to TB and is infecting our farms.

The second point is heavily dependent on the Department investing in what it believes to be the solution. The Department has put forward proposals that it says will achieve eradication by 2030. If it is as confident in its proposals as we are, why does it not invest in the short term in supporting the farmers its proposals will affect? Everybody would accrue a benefit in the long term if these proposals are to be so successful. They need to go further. If there are problems and difficulties on farms and in areas that have a poor history, these farms need to be fully supported and helped to farm their way through this. They do not need to be stigmatised in the marketplace or derestricted, which reduces their eligibility for support payments, and restricted again three months later, which means the slate is wiped clean and the State has a significant saving in compensation.

It is the same for depopulation. There are continuing outbreaks among farmers who are restricted for significant periods, derestricted, and restricted again, and there is a continual refusal to depopulate these farms. Let these men clean out, disinfect and get back to normal farm practice. Unfortunately, the decision seems to be based on finance rather than the veterinary view. Nobody could say the Department is successfully addressing a TB outbreak that has continued for two or three years with maybe a two or three-month window of derestriction in that time. TB is not being addressed on that farm. That farmer is being held to ransom by the failure of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. That is not acceptable. If that disease is in those animals, they all need to be taken out and the man let restock to kick off again.

As for zero grazing, I am aware of the herd owner who has been depopulated in Deputy Fitzmaurice's area. It may or may not be a contributory factor. The ultimate issue is that regardless of whether the herd owner was zero grazing, there was obviously TB in the vicinity, whether it was brought in or the wildlife got access to where the animals were being fed. Zero grazing almost replicates what happens for six months every winter-----


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