UFU issues response to TB strategy group

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The Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) has submitted its formal response to the interim report of the independent TB Strategic Partnership Group (TBSPG) on the eradication of bovine tuberculosis.

Following a major internal consideration of these proposals the UFU would, at this stage, be against the pre-movement testing of animals. Based on the current accuracy of the TB test, it feels this would be ineffective, while adding inconvenience and cost for farmers.

The UFU would, however, support farmers with restricted herds notifying DARD if animals are moved over longer distances.

This would help protect uninfected farms. Farmers would however need assurance that this would not add to an animal’s number of herd movements which could reduce its eventual value.

“We recognise that movement notifications of animals from infected herds would protect the wider industry.

“But without access to more information on typical animal movement distance and frequency, we would suggest that a larger distance is used to see how such a protocol would work and then gradually reduce the range,” said UFU president Ian Marshall.

“This would allow DARD time to identify and fix flaws and give farmers time to restructure land they are renting in anticipation of the changes,” he said.

The UFU says it sees merit in herd risk status information being made available to allow farmers to make more informed buying decisions.

“However, we believe this may be more appropriate later in the disease control programme.

“If imposed at the current level of TB incidence it could lead to a situation where some farmers are unable to sell stock, and with no funding available to compensate them for their loss,” said Marshall.

After a widespread consultation with its farmer members the UFU says the industry cannot accept any reduction in the compensation levels paid and would be against forced changes to bio-security, or linking this to compensation.

“Over the last three years, Northern Ireland has been able to successfully remove brucellosis from cattle.

“This suggests our on-farm bio-security is robust enough to prevent disease spread, and it should be equally robust when it comes to bovine TB,” said Mr Marshall, adding that any failure of bio-security must be seen as further evidence of TB in wildlife acting as a local reservoir.

The most fundamental issue for the union is however the issue of tackling TB in both cattle and wildlife. In the Republic of Ireland, significant progress has been made by focusing on the control of TB in wildlife and by the introduction of better testing methods.

“We would certainly be in favour of the targeted removal of infected wildlife in hot spot areas,” said Ian Marshall.