The European Commission is penalising Ireland €1m for a failure to make progress in eradicating bovine tuberculosis (TB).

The EU was to provide €9.8m to the TB programme for 2018, accounting for 11% of total funding. However, its contribution will be reduced to €8.8m because Ireland's TB herd incidence has risen over the last three years.

In 2018, the national herd incidence was 3.51%, meaning of the 110,454 herds tested, 3,874 had at least one animal with TB. Commission experts are concerned that herd incidence has increased from 3.47% in 2017, which in turn was an increase on 3.27% in 2016.

TB incidence is now at 2014 levels despite programme spending increasing by 10% to €92m annually over the same period.

Further fines

EU fines could yet escalate. In response to a query from the Irish Farmers Journal the Department said: "Q3 2019 TB figures indicate that herd incidence and herd prevalence in 2019 will likely be slightly higher than 2018, marking the third consecutive year of deteriorating headline metrics."

In the event of another increase the EU will impose a penalty of 20%. This would equate to a €1.7m fine and reduce EU funding to just €6.6m.

In response to a parliamentary question to Fianna Fáil’s Charlie McConalogue, Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed has said the gaps in funding will be met by the Irish taxpayer.

This will increase the State’s contribution to the programme to almost €48m for 2018. Farmer contribution will remain at €35.1m.

The prospect of further penalties from the EU will likely have a bearing on the renewed TB strategy, due to be launched in the coming weeks. Eradicating TB by 2030 will be its goal.

2030 strategy

Minister Creed has outlined a number of areas that he is willing to invest further in. These include wildlife control, research into the role played by deer, further work in blackspot areas such as Monaghan and further interventions for herds with a history of repeated, prolonged or sizable breakdowns.

Farmer compensation is not one. The Minister said it would be “regrettable if the issue of compensation, which has most recently been reviewed in 2015, were to detract from this objective [of eradicating TB]”.

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