The total cost to taxpayers of bovine TB in NI since April 2006 is now in the region of £690m, analysis by the Irish Farmers Journal shows.

In 2018, a NI Audit Office report highlighted that the total TB bill over the previous 12 years stood at £476m. In the five years since then, our estimates indicate approximately £213m has been needed to cover disease costs.

Across the 10 years prior to 2006, the NI Audit Office report put costs at £199m, leaving the total expenditure on TB in the last 27 years at just under £890m. The figures involved dwarf the projected £490m overspend across 20 years for the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI)scheme which brought down the Stormont government in 2017.

Normally over half of the annual TB bill is for reactor animals. In 2022, that number was up 20% on the previous year to total 17,319. With cattle values also rising, it is putting extra pressure on DAERA finances.

The other main areas of expenditure are related to testing by private vets and on DAERA veterinary and administrative staff working on TB.

The cost of TB testing is also set to rise in 2023 as private vets have agreed a new contract for their services after seeing rates frozen since 2016.

Vet school

Meanwhile, a report published by DAERA which assessed the need for a dedicated veterinary school in NI to ensure continued supply of local vets, has highlighted concerns about high costs.

The work suggests other short- and medium-term actions should be considered to increase the efficiency of the vet workforce in NI, including the use of lay testers (non-vets) to undertake routine TB testing on farms.