Testing regime to be dismantled early: O’Neill

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From this Monday (June 29th), owners of beef herds will only be required to test for Brucellosis every two years, Minister Michelle O’Neill has revealed.

Appearing before the Agriculture Committee at Stormont yesterday (Tuesday), Ms O’Neill said the downgrading of routine brucellosis surveillance is in line with the EU Directive that prescribes testing requirements, and comes ahead of original plans to implement change.

She said the move would bring significant benefits and savings for farmers and taxpayers.

The minister added: “Following the consultation on a future brucellosis testing regime, I have directed my officials to introduce biennial herd testing for beef herds from Monday 29 June 2015.

“I am delighted that we have reached the point where my veterinary officials are content to recommend its introduction. This good news should be welcomed by industry and by all who have worked assiduously on the eradication of brucellosis.”

It is over three years since the last confirmed case of brucellosis, and almost six years since the Republic of Ireland obtained Officially Brucellosis Free (OBF) status. The application for recognition of OBF status is currently with the EU Commission.

The minister said this change to the testing regime represents the start of a new landscape for brucellosis controls.

She added: “We plan to phase in changes successively over the next few months, the timing of which will depend on the response from the EU to our OBF application. I anticipate major savings for industry, taxpayers and DARD through the gradual dismantling of the brucellosis scheme as we move forward.”

Relaxing the testing regime for brucellosis will result in substantial financial benefits, in reduced administration, sampling and testing costs.

However brucellosis testing must continue for five years after OBF status is granted to ensure continuing disease freedom.

The Brucellosis Eradication Programme is currently estimated to cost some £8 million per year to taxpayers and £7 million per year in compliance costs to farmers.

Chief Veterinary Officer (CVO), Robert Huey emphasised that farmers’ compliance with the testing measures and biosecurity advice was vital.

He said: “The change will mean that beef herds will only be routinely tested every two years, as is already the case for dairy herds where blood testing is supplemented by monthly testing of bulk milk samples. While we can reduce the levels of routine testing, we must not relax our attitude to reporting of abortions or any suspicion of brucellosis. It is very important that we continue to stay free of this highly infectious disease. Stakeholder cooperation has been instrumental in getting the programme to this stage, and farmers must keep up their efforts to achieve excellent biosecurity standards.”