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 Pat DeeringPat Deering (Carlow-Kilkenny, Fine Gael)
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I welcome members of Animal Health Ireland, Mr. Joe O'Flaherty, CEO; Mr. Mike Magan, chairman; Mr. David Graham, deputy CEO and programme manager; Ms Finola McCoy, programme manager, CellCheck; and Ms Rebecca Carroll, programme manager, Beef HealthCheck. I thank them most sincerely for coming before the committee to update us on the priority programmes contained in the Animal Health Ireland strategic plan 2015 to 2017.

By virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the joint committee. If, however, they are directed by the Chairman to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and continue to do so, they are entitled thereafter only to qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person or an entity by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.

Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the Houses, or an official, either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.

I invite Mr. O'Flaherty to make his opening statement.

Mr. Joe O'Flaherty:

Animal Health Ireland, AHI, greatly welcomes the opportunity afforded by our attendance at the committee today to update members on its work. On the occasion of our previous attendance, in March 2015, AHI had just published its strategic plan for the period 2015 to 2017, and we availed of the opportunity at that meeting to set out in some detail for the members our ambitions for the next three years. As we move into the final year of the current strategic planning cycle, it is opportune to take stock of the progress that has been made and the challenges that remain to be addressed. My following remarks will provide an update on the AHI priority programmes: the bovine viral diarrhoea, BVD, eradication programme; the infectious bovine rhinotracheitis, IBR, eradication programme; the dairy cow mastitis reduction programme, CellCheck; the Johne's disease, JD, control programme; and the national abattoir surveillance programme, Beef HealthCheck. I do not propose to go into detail in this opening statement on our other priorities set out in the strategic plan, which deal with matters relating to the general corporate development of AHI, particularly our funding and governance models, but I remain at the disposition of the committee over the course of this session to respond to questions members may have on any aspect of our business.

The objective of the BVD programme is to eradicate BVD from the national cattle herd by the end of 2020. BVD is a disease of considerable economic importance to Irish farmers. A cost-benefit analysis commissioned by AHI places the losses associated with this infection at €102 million per annum. The compulsory phase of the programme, which began in 2013 following a successful pilot in 2012, targets the identification and removal of animals persistently infected with BVD virus from the national breeding herd through the testing of samples of ear tissue collected during the routine tagging process. Over the four years of the programme to date, this has resulted in a 75% reduction in the prevalence of PI calves born, from 0.66% in 2013 to 0.17% in 2016, translating into a benefit to farmers of over €65 million in that year after programme costs are taken into account. The proportion of herds with positive results has declined in parallel, from 11.3% in 2013 to 3.2% in 2016. Over this period, the proportion of the national breeding herd that has been assigned BVD status on the programme database has increased to almost 100%. This, together with the reduction in prevalence, has allowed 80% of the 83,000 breeding herds to acquire negative herd status, NHS, with the majority of the remaining herds only requiring test results for small numbers of animals to also acquire NHS. This is an important steppingstone toward national freedom, which, in addition, rewards herd owners through their ability to access lower-cost testing.

While the programme has made good progress to date, it has faced a number of challenges, which the members of the BVD programme implementation group continue to address. Principal among these has been the retention of PI animals by a minority of herd owners. The negative impact of this behaviour has been demonstrated in a number of studies and in the outputs of a sophisticated model that has been developed to inform the decision-making of the BVD technical working group and the implementation group. Based on recommendations of the technical working group, a number of changes have been made to the programme for 2017. These include a continuation of tag testing in 2017; an increased level of financial support for the removal of PI calves, but a reduction in the period for which these are available; automation of the placing of restrictions on herds that retain PI animals for more than five weeks, and notification of their neighbours to allow appropriate biosecurity measures to be put in place; a requirement for confirmatory testing to be conducted on blood samples collected by a veterinary practitioner, with the cost being met by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine; and the requirement for all herds with positive results to undergo an investigation by a trained veterinary practitioner as part of the targeted advisory service on animal health, funded under the rural development programme.

A programme for the eradication of a highly infectious animal disease, such as BVD, requires a co-ordinated whole-of-island approach in order to be effective. In this regard, I am glad to say AHI has been in close collaboration with colleagues in Animal Health and Welfare NI and other relevant organisations in Northern Ireland since the inception of the programme in this jurisdiction. The BVD eradication programme in Northern Ireland, which entered a compulsory phase in 2016, shares the same design features as our programme, and there is a regular exchange of technical information between the two programmes. This close co-ordination creates a sound basis for the eradication of this damaging disease from the island of Ireland as a whole, within the timeframes to which I referred. Furthermore, it provides a template from which we can draw in designing and implementing programmes for the control of other economically important animal diseases on a whole-of-island basis.

The objective of the IBR programme is to eradicate IBR from the national herd, subject to a positive cost-benefit analysis and a mandate from AHI stakeholders. The IBR technical working group has previously developed a number of resources providing best practice on controlling and eradicating IBR at the individual herd level, and it is currently developing options to be included in a cost-benefit analysis of a national programme. In addition to the losses arising from both clinical and sub-clinical disease in dairy and beef herds, the current absence of an approved national programme poses a threat to live exports as other countries continue to put approved programmes in place and receive additional guarantees from the European Commission as a result. Most recently, the acquisition by Belgium of approved programme status has led to the almost complete cessation of Irish live cattle exports to this market.

The objective of the national dairy cow mastitis reduction programme, CellCheck, is to facilitate the Irish dairy industry to continue to improve milk quality such that 75% of the milk supplied by Irish farmers will have a somatic cell count of 200,000 cells per millilitre or less by the end of 2020. One of the priority activities of the CellCheck programme has been the establishment of a national bulk tank somatic cell count database. This database now contains data accounting for approximately 93% for the national milk pool for the three years 2013, 2014 and 2015. Analysis of this data shows a positive trend in the udder health of the national herd. The proportion of herds with an average somatic cell count of less than 200,000 cells per millilitre in 2015 was 60%, while the proportion of milk meeting this standard stood at 64%. In 2013, the analogous figures were 39% and 46%, respectively.

CellCheck farmer workshops have been included as one of the compulsory elements of the dairy knowledge transfer, KT, programme, a measure within the current rural development plan, with a target to deliver approximately 270 workshops within the first 18 months of the programme. Since the KT programme commenced in October 2016, approximately 120 workshops have been delivered. A second phase of delivery, which will commence once the spring calving peak has passed, should see the remaining workshops completed before the end of 2017. These workshops are designed to create an active learning environment for small groups of farmers. They are farm-based and interactive, with the delivery being provided by teams of CellCheck-trained local service providers. Participant feedback from these workshops has been very positive to date.

Training of additional service providers continues, with the objective of increasing the capacity of the programme to engage with farmers on mastitis control and to expand the network of service providers trained to deliver CellCheck farmer workshops. AHI is also working on the development of additional training modules to facilitate continued upskilling of service providers. Challenges for the future of the CellCheck programme include defining the role that the programme will play in contributing to Government action on the major societal challenge of antimicrobial resistance. This and a number of other key issues are currently being discussed under the chairmanship of AHI in the CellCheck implementation group.

Next is the JD control programme. A major pilot programme for the control of JD, led and co-ordinated by AHI, ran for three years, from 2014 to 2016, with the objective of determining the feasibility of establishing a future national voluntary control programme for this important disease. At the conclusion of the pilot programme, 1,214 dairy herds were enrolled. Farmers who participated in the pilot phase of the programme undertook a number of actions aimed at reducing the risk of the disease entering their herd, or at controlling its spread within their herd if the infection was already present. The principal actions undertaken were the completion of an on-farm risk assessment, led by veterinary practitioners who had been trained and approved by AHI, and the carrying out of annual testing of the eligible animals in the herd. In the pilot programme, the cost of the risk assessment visit was met in full by the Department, while participating milk processors provided a financial subsidy to partially offset the cost of testing.

Following a period of consultation, hosted by Animal Health Ireland in the final quarter of 2016, and subsequent meetings of the JD implementation group, there would appear to be general support among stakeholders for the continuation of national efforts to mitigate the risks relating to JD in Ireland. AHI has developed a draft business plan for such a programme and in an imminent meeting of the JD implementation group will seek the agreement of stakeholders on its commencement. The draft objectives of the programme are to provide additional reassurance to the marketplace regarding Ireland's effort to control JD and to mitigate against antimicrobial resistance; to enhance the ability of participating farmers to keep their herds clear of JD and to clear infection from their herds, if present; to improve calf health and farm biosecurity on participating farms; and to reduce the requirement for antimicrobial usage on participating farms, consequent to improvements in animal health and biosecurity.

The Beef HealthCheck programme, which was formally launched in 2015, has two objectives. The first is to develop tools to assist farmers and their veterinary practitioners to control losses due to liver fluke and pneumonia through the capturing, analysis and reporting of abattoir data. The second is to contribute to the development by the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation, ICBF, of economic breeding indexes that incorporate health and disease data.

Working closely with the Department, Meat Industry Ireland, Veterinary Ireland and ICBF, AHI has developed a harmonised system for recording liver and lung lesions in slaughtered cattle and reporting the information back to farmers. Relevant information is captured in meat plants by the temporary veterinary inspectors, who record it on touchscreens situated at the veterinary inspection points on the factory floor.

For several months now, the information generated by the system has been reported back to farmers by means of colour-coded paper-based report. The paper-based reports are now being supplemented by a new system, hosted on the ICBF database, which allows farmers to view the Beef HealthCheck information for their herd online. This information can also be shared with the farmer's veterinary practitioner, facilitating herd health planning. The scope of this programme, currently covering 65% of the national beef kill, and its ability to report key animal health outcomes in close to real time, provides Irish farmers and their vets with a unique facility, unmatched, to my knowledge, in any of the countries with which we compete in the international marketplace.

I acknowledge the financial and other support AHI receives form all its members and stakeholders, without which we would be unable to deliver on behalf of the industry. I am proud of the strong record of achievement of this organisation over the years since its establishment in 2009 and I believe that the continuing support of our stakeholders bears testament to the fact that AHI has demonstrated a real contribution to the national effort to make farming and the agrifood sector in Ireland more profitable and sustainable. I and my colleagues look forward to engaging with the committee on any of the matters outlined in my opening remarks and any other aspect of our work.

Photo of Pat DeeringPat Deering (Carlow-Kilkenny, Fine Gael)
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I thank Mr. O'Flaherty. I call Senator Lombard, followed by Deputies Cahill and Martin Kenny.

Photo of Tim LombardTim Lombard (Fine Gael)
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I welcome the delegation from Animal Health Ireland. Even though the organisation was only established in 2009, it has had a remarkable effect on the agricultural industry.

I wish to speak about the BVD eradication and the Johne's disease issue. BVD eradication has been a remarkable success. From the farmers' point of view the ease of tagging has worked out very well. There was great concern about the PIs staying on farms. The change in the past few months regarding farmers being notified of a PI on a neighbour's farm has helped somewhat because that had to happen. It made no logical sense for PIs to be left on farms and defeated the whole purpose of the programme. Given the success of the BVD eradication programme, one would be hopeful that we will be BVD free by 2020.

The other side of the coin is the Johne's disease issue. I will not speak much on the Johne's disease issue, which is one of the key issues in the dairy industry. I know co-operatives such as Carbery in west County Cork have been very proactive in trying to deal with this. It is key to get buy-in right now so we have a national programme. Education is key for calf rearing. We need to work to ensure we do not spread that disease through the national herd. I ask Mr. O'Flaherty to outline the next steps in introducing a programme similar to the BVD eradication programme. When does Mr. O'Flaherty believe the national herd will be free of Johne's disease?

Has there been any input from the Northern Ireland authorities regarding an all-island approach to Johne's disease, given the amount of milk that flows in both directions in the Border counties? It is one of the major issues facing the agriculture industry. We need to learn from the pilot programme, but it was only a pilot. The next step is to put in place a national programme. How confident is Mr. O'Flaherty that Animal Health Ireland will be able to get the funding to establish a national eradication programme with a view to being able to declare ourselves Johne's free?

Photo of Jackie CahillJackie Cahill (Tipperary, Fianna Fail)
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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.

Photo of Martin KennyMartin Kenny (Sligo-Leitrim, Sinn Fein)
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I welcome everyone here today.

Many farmers have seen tremendous benefits over the last number of years from the work Animal Health Ireland, AHI, has been doing, and the BVD eradication programme has really made huge advances. Much of it has been said already but we need to see when we can expect to have some conclusion on that. Deputy Cahill said many vaccinations have been used on many farms for many years. Is there any possibility of some of those becoming defunct or coming to a stage where they are no longer going to be able to provide the cover they do? I live in a Border area and I am very conscious of the trade that crosses the Border, not just in animals but in foodstuffs and everything else. We need some kind of an all-Ireland status. We need an all-Ireland animal health organisation that could work seamlessly together to ensure that we can try to move things forward. I would be interested to know the views on that.

One advantage we have is the network of veterinary laboratories across the country, which has been very useful and has provided a great advantage and service to many farmers. There is one near me in Sligo. I am concerned to hear there may be some rationalisation of that or a change whereby some of them may close or may move to one or two central locations. A lot of people in the farming community and other places would be very concerned about that because it would mean that an animal that needed to go to a laboratory somewhere for tests would have to travel across the whole country. That brings to mind foot and mouth and all that. The current system is working well, has stood the test of time and should be kept in place. I would be interested in the witnesses' views on that.

Photo of Pat DeeringPat Deering (Carlow-Kilkenny, Fine Gael)
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I thank the Deputy. Mr. O'Flaherty or any of his delegation are welcome to make a contribution.

Mr. Joe O'Flaherty:

I thank the Chairman. I might turn the first responses over to my colleague Mr. David Graham, deputy CEO, on BVD and infectious bovine rhinotracheitis, IBR.

Mr. David Graham:

I thank members for the questions and for the recognition of the progress that has been made, particularly in the BVD programme.

It is fair to say that despite that progress, as I think all of the questions have indicated, the progress has been slower than anticipated. It is recognised that the primary reason for this has been the retention of persistently infected, PI, animals, albeit by a minority of herd owners. The implementation group has sought consistently over the years of the programme thus far to reinforce and refine. There is recognition of the additional measures that have been brought in this year, including notification of neighbours in order that they can put in place biosecurity measures, more prompt imposition of restrictions, refinement of the financial supports and the timescales available for them. We are very hopeful that we will see further benefit from those measures through the course of 2017. On foot of the partial introduction of a number of those measures in 2016, we have seen a marked improvement in addressing retention issues. The rate of progress of reduction of PIs in 2016 was much greater than in previous years as that retention issue has been addressed. Looking to the future within the programme, one piece of work that has been very useful for the implementation group and that increasingly is informing its thinking has been the development of a national level model of the disease within the country. It allows us to interrogate that model and to ask a series of different questions about the impact of different measures.

On times to eradication, the outputs of that modelling indicate that is feasible by 2020. The challenge remains for all stakeholders to continue to do the right thing. There are increasing measures and there is the scope for the implementation group to agree and to seek more stringent measures still to address those. To some extent, some of those still remain at farm level and need to be implemented there.

I will address where we are with IBR briefly. For each of the programmes Animal Health Ireland has, it works through or gets its scientific input from technical working groups that support the programmes. The IBR technical working group has been working initially on developing resources that operate at individual farm level and is now moving forward to seek to put a programme or options for a programme in place at national level. Within the EU there is legislation that puts certain constraints on the shape of our programme if we wish to have it approved by the Commission. The implementation group undertook a study visit around 12 months ago to look at programmes which have approval in Belgium, as well as the Dutch programme, with a view to trying to identify the most cost-effective way that we can take that forward. That work is coming close to completion at this stage and can then move to the next stage. There is also ongoing work within Teagasc, looking at the disease cost to inform the other side of that cost-benefit discussion. The goal over the next months is to bring the two elements of that together and to bring that forward for consultation using the same model as we followed with BVD at the start of that programme. I will end my remarks there unless there any further or follow-up questions.

Mr. Joe O'Flaherty:

There are a number of questions on Johne's disease, and I offer my apologies that my colleague Lorna Citer, the programme manager, is not available to be with us here today.

There were questions on the programme which AHI, together with the stakeholders, is attempting to establish at the moment. The pilot programme ran for three years and finished at the end of last year. We learned a considerable amount from that programme in which between 1,200 and 1,300 farmers participated. The challenge now is to take that to the next level. As a nation that exports as heavily as Ireland does and is as heavily dependent on exports as is Ireland and particularly for a nation that has such skin in the game in terms of value added commodities or value added products like infant formula, it behoves us to be as ambitious as possible with our future Johne's disease control programme.

Having said that, there are certain constraints around Johne's disease and Deputy Cahill mentioned the test sensitivity there. That is one constraint. The tests that we are using in the programme in Ireland are the same tests used in programmes internationally. Programmes internationally have demonstrated real progress in reducing the prevalence of JD. While the tests are not by any means as sensitive as tests for BVD, for example, they are a sufficient tool. For JD, one has to think of the test as a support for management. The key intervention for JD is the management on the farm relating to the treatment of the young calf and the interaction between the dam and the calf. Testing is an adjunct to good management. The BVD scheme on one side is a programme based on a really high class, very sensitive, specific test which allows one to identify animals and remove them from the herd. Handling Johne's disease is much more about good management, with testing being an adjunct to good management. In that context, the test has been shown internationally to be sufficient to make progress. The other significant constraint on Johne's disease is that fortunately we have quite a low prevalence relative to other countries internationally and that is a good thing.

On the other hand, that low prevalence translates into a very weak economic driver for the farmer to control the disease because if there is one positive result out of a 100-cow herd, the economic impact of that is quite limited. There is not a strong economic driver at the farmer's level to control this disease in the same way as there is for BVD. There is a challenge in respect of the test and the economic drivers.

We have a draft business plan with our stakeholders which we intend to present to them at a meeting next week, and the way we have sought to take this forward in it is to take our lead from some of the progress that has been made internationally regarding JD and expand the scope beyond the disease. Questions were asked about salmonella control. We know that the measures put in place on a farm to control JD will also contribute to controlling a disease like salmonellosis. There are synergies to be built from the JD programme with disease control in the context of other issues, between JD control and farm biosecurity and between JD control and reducing antimicrobial usage on farms. The view that has been taken, which is largely supported by stakeholders, is that by broadening out this programme, we can make it more sustainable, more attractive to farmers and more financially viable, particularly if we can continue to attract in some support from both the State and private sector stakeholders. The business plan in front of stakeholders at present proposes that there would be support for farmers from both the Department and the private sector to encourage them to stay actively involved in the JD programme.

Senator Lombard asked some questions on timescales for eradication and so on. We need to be thinking of Johne's disease in the context of control rather than eradication. To my knowledge, Sweden is the only country in which JD is absent. In countries where JD has been established or has become endemic, the disease has remained. It has not been possible to eradicate but it can be substantially controlled. Our objective in Ireland would be substantially control Johne's disease. We can do that by getting participation in the programme up to the highest possible levels. In terms of the current year, the level of ambition needs to be moderated. We will seek to grow participation in the pilot programme but for 2017, assuming that we can get agreement from stakeholders. However, we would not be expecting, for example, to double the level of participation in the first year. That would certainly be our ambition for 2017 and to go beyond that in subsequent years.

On the Senator's question regarding the interaction with Northern Ireland, we are very fortunate to have very close and warm relations with Animal Health and Welfare Northern Ireland. My colleague, Dr. Graham, contributes their BVD eradication programme and their chief executive officer, Dr. Sam Strain, has contributed significantly to our Johne's disease control programme. While I take the Deputy's point with regard to Northern Ireland lagging behind the Republic of Ireland in respect of BVD somewhat, we are at least in a position where the technical design of the two programmes is practically identical. In the context of the BVD programme, we are looking at a technical design that is identical. There is very good cross-pollination from one jurisdiction into the other. On those grounds, I think we can be reasonable optimistic that we will develop an all-island approach to JD. In the context of BVD, the objective is all-island eradication. As Dr. Graham has said, our modelling work shows us that 2020 continues to be the point by which we can achieve eradication.

Finally, returning to Deputy Cahill's reference to the three years of tag testing, it certainly is the case that the programme was initially promoted as involving three years of tag testing followed by three years of surveillance, which was intended to be blood-based surveillance and, for dairy herds, milk-based surveillance. Due to a change in the facts on the ground and the level of prevalence of the disease not reducing as quickly as had been anticipated, largely due to retention of persistently infected animals, the modelling work and the work of the technical working group indicated that it would have been imprudent to move away from tag testing in the time frame that we had originally indicated.

On the point of legislation to oblige the removal of infected animals, there is certainly a lesson to take forward into other programmes but we should bear in mind that, constitutionally, the obliged removal of an infected animal from a herd would trigger compensation by the State. At the time of our early discussions with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine on the drawing up of legislation, there was not an appetite to go down the route of compulsory compensation as would be typical in the TB or brucellosis eradication programmes.

I will conclude my remarks. I think our chairman would like to comment on the point of vaccinations.

Mr. Mike Magan:

I was gratified by the comments from the members in supporting where we have got to and equally being frustrated with the lack of complete progress on BVD. As Mr. O'Flaherty has explained, there are reasons for this. Naively, we expected farmers to do the right thing and get rid of a persistently infected animal but human nature is strange and complex and people do things for a variety of reasons. I have no doubt that we will complete the job. On the point of vaccinations, farmers spend a lot of money on vaccinations every year and we would like to think that success in a programme like BVD will ultimately mean that vaccination against it will not be necessary and will be one of those that we will be able to drop.

On the general point of vaccinations, and one of the members referred to salmonella, co-ordination around vaccinations is a prudent thing for which to aim ultimately. Over time, it would be good if we could get national coordination on what is happening on vaccinations, who is vaccinating and when. IBR will, for example, more than likely be the subject of a vaccination programme. This IBR programme, as already pointed out, will be crucial to the success of Ireland's continued export of, for example, quality weanlings from the west of Ireland and Dairygold calves from the south of Ireland. These are areas where we just cannot leave ourselves disadvantaged. Vaccinations are crucial at one level but equally, if we are successful in some areas, we can hopefully drop off some of them and yet use them sensible as a tool for eradication in other cases. It needs to be coordinated and we would like to look to a committee such as this for support in and around some of those programmes in the future, because we have enormous challenges ahead in herd health and when we work together we can do so much more. A committee such as this, with the power that it has, would be very helpful to us and we would love to talk further, perhaps with the chairman, as to how we could harness that collective power.

Photo of Pat DeeringPat Deering (Carlow-Kilkenny, Fine Gael)
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Mr. Magan is more than welcome to return to the committee at any stage in the future. Do any other members wish to contribute? Reference was made to Northern Ireland. The big "B" word is coming down the line. Do the witnesses see any effect in that regard?

Mr. Joe O'Flaherty:

We would look at Brexit with some concern. We share the general view that there are a lot of unknowns out there and that we are still in a fairly fluid situation. One potential cause of concern would be a divergence of the regulatory standards on the two sides of the Border. As we with diseases that initially were non-regulated, though BVD now is a regulated disease, we operate somewhat outside of the regulatory framework, but it is still important and it still guides us. In terms of mitigating that risk, Animal Health Ireland will certainly continue to work very closely with our colleagues in Animal Health and Welfare Northern Ireland. I was interested to hear a comment from one of the earlier contributors regarding to all-island bodies that might address these issues on an all-island basis.

One could not discount such a development in the future and it would certainly have merit in terms of maximising resource use. It is a conversation that has not progressed to date, however. We are very conscious of the risks posed by Brexit, particularly in respect of the issue of divergence of standards.

Photo of Pat DeeringPat Deering (Carlow-Kilkenny, Fine Gael)
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I thank Mr. Flaherty, Mr. Magan, Ms McCoy, Ms Carroll and Mr. Graham for coming before us today and for the very detailed presentation. They are more than welcome to come before us again to discuss the issues.

Sitting suspended at 5 p.m. and resumed at 5.05 p.m.