Newly appointed NI chief vet Brian Dooher has been asked by Agriculture Minister Andrew Muir to review DAERA’s bovine TB policy.

Speaking at Stormont on Monday, Minister Muir told MLAs that Dooher will work on the review “in the weeks ahead”.

“One of the first tasks that we have asked Brian to do is to take a fresh look at the whole issue of bovine TB and how we can provide a new way forward for NI,” he said.

There have been numerous reviews of TB policy within DAERA in recent years, with the most recent strategy revision, published in March 2022, including plans for a non-selective cull of badgers in TB hotspot areas.

The badger cull element was then quashed by a High Court judge in November 2023 due to errors in the process that DAERA followed when it set out the revised strategy.

“We need to find a way forward, but make sure that whatever we do is right and that we are not subject to successful legal challenge, as we were, for example, in relation to the wildlife strategy,” Minister Muir said.

Compensation cuts

The Alliance MLA also reiterated that the budget DAERA receives for 2024/2025 will determine if proposed cuts to compensation rates for TB reactor cattle go ahead.

“I do not wish to change the compensation rate, but if the budget is slashed to the extent that I cannot undertake my statutory duties, I will be left with no other place to go,” he said.

The proposals for TB compensation to fall to 90% of each animal’s value in 2024/2025, before reducing to 75% thereafter, were set out in a public consultation, which closed to responses last week.

In its submission, the Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) said its members are “ferociously opposed” to the proposal and will “object forcefully to any suggestion of its implementation”.

“True savings could be sustainably brought to the programme by implementing a full suite of measures that tackle the disease head-on. The most impactful of these measures is wildlife intervention,” the UFU said.

UFU calls out inaction on TB strategy

A long list of policies from the 2022 TB strategy which DAERA has failed to implement, are outlined in the UFU’s official response to proposed TB compensation cuts.

Aside from wildlife intervention, areas of the strategy where the UFU has seen no progress include setting up new structures to help deal with TB at a more local level, testing non-bovines such as deer, and the wider use of the interferon gamma blood test.

A key issue also raised is the lack of progress with delivering “alternative control herds”, which would effectively be beef-finishing units where cattle are not grazed or sold live.

These high-biosecurity units could have reduced TB testing and could potentially be able to buy cattle from TB breakdown herds.

“UFU viewed these herds as a key pressure relief point from TB-infected farms. There is still no development with this key ask,” the union said.

The lack of staff within DAERA’s veterinary group is also highlighted, with the UFU stating that it means “TB outbreaks are not properly investigated”.

Financial savings

Rather than cutting compensation, the UFU suggests financial savings with TB could made by having a more nuanced approach to lateral check tests (LCTs). This is where a herd is deemed at risk of TB, usually due to its location, and is required to test.

“Proper conversations and risk-based assessments could be used to negate the need for LCTs which are not truly at risk to the infected herd,” the UFU state.

Testing could also be scaled back significantly on beef finishing units where cattle are not sold live, the union suggest.


Finally, the UFU argue that income from the slaughter of TB reactor cattle, which equates to around £10m/year, could be increased if more factories processed TB-positive cattle.

At present, WD Meats in Coleraine is the only abattoir in NI that slaughters TB reactors.

“UFU would like to see other processors entering into this market, in order to drive competition and, therefore, return increased value to the budget,” the UFU response reads.