Thursday, 21 October 2021
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
6. To ask the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the number of bovine animals found to have failed the tuberculosis eradication test in each of the years 2019, 2020 and to date in 2021 in respect of the dairy herd and the beef herd; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [51671/21]
I thank the Deputy for the question.
The number of dairy herd reactor animals is 8,837 for 2019, 12,440 for 2020 and 8,402 up to 29 September of this year. The number of suckler herd reactor animals is 5,894 for 2019, 7,275 for 2020 and 4,684 up to 29 September of this year. The number of other herd reactor animals is 347 for 2019, 515 for 2020 and 344 to the end of September of this year. The overall total in respect of reactor numbers is 17,000 for 2019, 22,562 for 2020 and 14,901 up to 29 September of this year.
Herd incidence rose every year between 2016 and 2020, which has been very concerning. This disease causes untold hardship for farmers and farming families, as the Deputy knows. Although the challenge is serious, my Department, working together with stakeholders, is engaging with farmers and is committed to eradicating this disease.
Earlier this year I launched a new bovine tuberculosis eradication strategy for the period from 2021 to 2030. The implementation of this strategy is overseen by the TB stakeholder forum with support from three new working groups on science, implementation and finance to ensure that all aspects of the strategy are addressed. Extensive consultation with the three working groups will develop a shared understanding of how collectively we can reduce TB incidence along with implementing the new TB eradication strategy over that period.
The figures the Minister provided are very concerning and the trend is clear for people to see. It confirms what we hear on the ground, namely, that TB is prevalent again. Many farmers I have contact with have spoken of TB being detected in their herds for the first time in 30 years. This causes monetary and personal distress for these farmers.
Responding to a TB outbreak is particularly onerous. When a TB reactor is found in a herd it imposes significant constraints on the farmer and the way he or she can conduct business. No movement of animals in or out of the herd will be allowed and two consecutive clear tests will be required and this can take a maximum of 120 days.
I ask the Minister to look at the issue of stock retention on the farm while awaiting de-restriction and the requirement for new-born calves to be reared on a farm. These calves can often be sold at seven weeks. Many farms are not set up and simply do not have the space for these extra numbers. This is placing a significant workload and burden on individual farmers. I also ask the Minister to consider allowing contract-reared animals and heifers reared in outside places to return home to the herd and be included in the compensation framework.
I thank Deputy O'Sullivan for his comments and suggestions. As the Deputy knows, when we are dealing with an infectious disease the strategy is not set in stone. The TB strategy I have put together is a living document which will be subject to amendment and refinement on an ongoing basis. The TB stakeholder forum and the three working groups are considering all issues as this matter evolves. They will consider issues such as the suggestions made by the Deputy.
As part of my ongoing commitment to eradicating TB, I have sanctioned an additional €1 million in budget funding for the wildlife programme, which is an integral part of the overall programme. There have been positive indications of progress with the TB situation for 2021. These are likely to represent a necessary improvement compared with 2020. Working together we can build on the momentum we have developed. I am acutely aware of the financial and emotional burden associated with a TB breakdown and we must do everything we can, working together, to tackle this very serious challenge.
It will be interesting to see the final figures for the year. I am giving feedback to the Minister on the lads who are working on the ground eradicating TB. They are highlighting to us that they are facing an uphill battle. That said, I welcome the investment of €6 million in budget 2022 for TB eradication but this money must translate to boots on the ground. An important part of this investment is the wildlife programme, as the Minister said. Increased resources must be targeted in this area. The work is enormous and time-consuming.
I ask that the relocation of the vaccination programme be escalated and that a territory expansion survey be carried out in certain areas for certain species. Roaming stocks are also a contributing factor and need to be curtailed.
I welcome the Department's commitment to a major works analysis and habitat preservation. The impact on wildlife from expansion, deforestation and reclamation is also a contributing factor. These activities should be carefully managed.
I thank Deputy O'Sullivan for raising this very important issue and for his interest in it. I know it arises from his engagement with farmers in his constituency and the concern they have about the growing incidence of TB, certainly in 2020, and the burden this places on the affected farmers and the stress and financial strain associated with it. I assure the Deputy that we will continue to work on this matter. The Deputy's suggestions are being brought to the table by farm organisations, as part of the TB stakeholder forum.
All eyes and brains are being applied to this matter to ensure we are taking a scientific approach with the objective of driving down TB numbers. Getting to a position where we can drive numbers as low as possible and work towards eradication is the best outcome for all farm families.
I thank the Deputy again for his suggestions and for raising the matter. I assure him of our efforts, working with the Deputy and other Oireachtas Members are very keen to make progress on this issue, to set the right course and reverse the challenging increases in TB incidence we have seen in recent years.