A draft TB eradication strategy is to be issued by the Department of Agriculture before the next TB Forum is held in a few weeks time.

Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue has directed his officials to hold one-to-one meetings with farm organisations before he reconvenes the TB Forum again in November.

Thursday’s meeting of the forum, which was convened after a 16-month hiatus, was also attended by Minister of State Martin Heydon.

It came against a backdrop of farmer frustration over controversial TB risk letters sent to farmers by the Department and an expected hike in the cost of the TB programme.

Minister McConalogue said: “The presence of TB increases administrative complexity and bureaucracy, and is a significant disadvantage when it comes to meeting certification specifications in export markets.

“If we want to reduce the burden on farmers, our objective has to be to eradicate the disease. We have succeeded in obtaining Brucellosis-free status by taking decisive action and working together.”

Buy-in needed

IFA animal health chair Pat Farrell said the objective has to be the eradication of TB in the shortest feasible timeframe, but warned that this would only be achieved if there was buy-in from all parties.

He said that the the Department of Agriculture had agreed to address the issue of the letters and the “blacklisting” of farmers in the planned bilateral discussions.

The IFA wants a TB programme to focus on wildlife control, on-farm investigation of disease outbreaks and financial supports for farms under TB controls.

“Any attempts to steam-roll measures or the new strategy on a piecemeal basis will not be acceptable. All aspects of the new strategy must be agreed and implemented in unison,” Farrell said.

Market distortion

ICSA animal health chair Hugh Farrell also condemned the issuing of TB risk letters, saying it “went way beyond what had been agreed at previous sittings of the forum” and that the Department had “essentially taken it upon themselves to bring in herd categorisation by the back door, and in doing so, they have unleashed the potential for markets to be seriously distorted”.

Any form of herd categorisation will become a matter for compensation

He added that urgent reform of compensation measures was needed.

“Any form of herd categorisation will become a matter for compensation. The changes made have all had a financial impact on farmers, and the fact that they have been done in advance of the substantive issues around compensation being resolved is grossly unfair,” said Farrell.

ICMSA deputy president Lorcan McCabe is also keen to focus on compensation for farmers.

Front loading funding

“I have called on the Minister to consider front loading funding and to get tighter on affected herds instead of drip feeding the €100m,” he said, referring to the annual cost of the TB programme.

These farms are being locked up for the good of the nation

“This problem needs to be hit hard, but we also need to look after the affected farmers. These farms are being locked up for the good of the nation and there needs to be a system in place to compensate them."

Echoing the welcome all farm organisations have given to the TB Forum being reconvened, McCabe said: “We have to work together and get away from this blame game that’s being played at the minute.”

Speaking after the meeting, Minister Martin Heydon said: “I know the impact that an outbreak of TB can have on a farm family. That is why we need to do everything we can to contain this disease and eradicate it.

“It is important that we maintain the positive momentum from today and agree a common path forward on how best to reduce TB levels.”

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