Farmers having to pay for additional TB tests, following the news that stricter rules will come into effect in January 2023, is a red line issue for the Irish Farmers' Association (IFA).
“Payment of the additional testing is a red line issue for us and the long-standing position of the IFA animal health committee is that farmers only pay for one TB test per year," the committee's chair TJ Maher said.
Any other additional statutory testing obligations or TB control programme requirements must be paid for by the Department, Maher argued.
“Initially, the requirements of the new regulations were to come into play in January 2022 on all animals moving without a TB test in the previous six months, and without a herd test within the previous six months.
“Following prolonged negotiations, significant progress has been made and the impact the regulation has on trade has been substantially reduced to focus on higher-risk animals only – cows and males over 36 months of age,” he said.
The financial working group of the TB forum, he said, has not agreed on the payment of the additional testing requirements and the implementation of the regulation has been deferred until February 2023.
"The IFA policy is clear that until there is an agreement within the financial working group, the regulation must not be implemented," he added.
The Irish Cattle and Sheep Association (ICSA) has called on Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue and his Department officials to explain how they are going to finance additional TB testing demands facing farmers.
“At the TB forum, [the] ICSA has always been insistent that farmers pay for one annual herd test - and one test only.
"However, [the] ICSA, along with other farmer representatives, have been left exasperated by the Department’s refusal to engage with us on how any additional mandatory testing would be financed,” ICSA animal health and welfare chair Hugh Farrell said.
Farrell also said that the Minister must now step forward and come clean on whether farmers will have to pay for more than one test.
The Department refusing to engage or continually drag[ging] their heels
“Once again, we are seeing farmers being burdened with additional testing demands - the finer details of which have not been signed off by the TB forum, most notably who will pay.
"We have seen this repeatedly, whereby any financial considerations are relentlessly long-fingered by the Department.
"It could be in relation to income supplement, hardship grants or unfair compensation caps, but the pattern remains the same - the Department refusing to engage or continually drag[ging] their heels when it comes to additional financial supports for farmers," he said.
Farrell also slammed the proposal on the basis that it is likely to give rise to widespread confusion.
“The Department has driven on with a proposal that lacks all clarity on who is responsible for testing – buyer or seller – or in what circumstances.
"I have been contacted by farmers who misinterpreted these reports as twice-yearly testing for all herds, but this is not on the table.
"Worse still is the fact that a farmer buying in a group of cattle has no certainty about what the status of these cattle is and the farmer cannot rely on the information on the mart board," he said.
Farrell added that "all this" has allegedly come from an EU directive, yet the EU has decided to discontinue its contribution to the TB eradication programme from 2024 onwards.
"How is it that they can continue to call the shots, but not contribute to the overall financing of the programme," he asked.