THE Department of Agriculture is being urged to take immediate action to investigate the recent rapid increase in Bovine Tuberculosis (TB).
The call after the Northern Ireland Assembly Committee for Agriculture and Rural Development launched its report into TB on Monday.
Committee chairperson, Mr Paul Frew MLA said that as a committee, they are deeply concerned about the impact of this disease and in their report, they are asking for more to be done so the disease is not able to take a firmer hold in Northern Ireland.
“The department must ensure the problem does not increase any further. We need the department to take action and to find out why there has been a huge rise in Bovine TB rates over the last 12 months – we must understand this disease in order to protect our cattle.”
Committee deputy chairperson, Mr Joe Byrne MLA said that although the committee welcomed the recent announcement of the Department’s research programme into the role of wildlife in the spread of Bovine TB, they feel that it came at a very late stage.
“We cannot afford to waste time or delay on any potential ways to eradicate the disease,” he added.
“The Wildlife Intervention Research Programme, which will test and either vaccinate or remove affected wildlife, needs development and approval as soon as possible so we can start to tackle this disease. We look forward to seeing the detail of the programme so we can assess it as soon as possible.”
Mr Frew said that as part of this Report the committee uncovered a huge amount of information and data on the subject of Bovine TB, but that much of the data is not shared or being used to its fullest extent.
“A much more detailed analysis and joined-up approach is needed to examine all information available about the disease. It is very worrying that the majority of cattle reactors to Bovine TB in Northern Ireland can be found in a small number of herds,” he added.
“Why is this pattern occurring; how are various strains affecting the disease pattern; and is the occurrence of other diseases, such as liver fluke and Johne’s disease masking its detection? These are important questions requiring answers which could be crucial in Northern Ireland’s fight against Bovine TB.”
The committee’s review into Bovine TB began in March 2012. Since then, the Committee heard from a wide range of important stakeholders and concerned organisations to ensure it was fully briefed on all the issues related to Bovine TB. The committee also undertook a fact finding visit to England, visiting a range of experts and focusing on specific aspects of Bovine TB control that are not practised in Northern Ireland: namely the now delayed English badger cull and badger vaccination.
The UFU has welcomed the report produced by the ARD committee on its review into bovine tuberculosis.
President Harry Sinclair said: The UFU shares the concerns of the report including the unexplained current sharp increase in tuberculosis across the country, the need for DARD to do more with regards to disease eradication and the recognition of the stress and burden the disease can impose on farm families.
“Back in 2008, DARD outlined their ‘three strand strategy for tackling TB and while they have taken some action to deliver on two of the strands they have failed to make any significant progress on addressing TB in wildlife’. While we support the announcement of the ‘wildlife intervention programme’, we are still waiting for any real developments on this and UFU would like to point out that in the interim Northern Ireland farmers are keeping their half of the agreement by ensuring tight biosecurity is adopted on farms and complying with additional disease control measures such as the removal of second time inconclusive animals.”
Mr Sinclair continued: “Despite farmers in Northern Ireland fully complying with one of the most rigorous TB eradication programmes in Europe, we have not made any significant progression. Other countries have already taken steps in eradicating TB, but they have been prepared to remove all sources of TB including removing diseased wildlife.
“While we welcome the commitment given by the Minister recently to implement the third strand of their TB policy which was announced in December 2008, genuinely and timely progress must be made. It is pointless to continue with the current situation where cattle go down with TB, the animals are slaughtered, the farm re-stocks and eventually goes down again with TB because the disease remained on the farm in wildlife. The incidence of the disease is at an alarming high and this demonstrates the urgency to tackle the reservoir of disease in wildlife.”
The UFU president concluded: “Until the outstanding TB control issue of disease in wildlife is addressed our members are unwilling to consider any changes to compensation arrangements for TB and therefore the UFU believe the current arrangements must be maintained. Northern Ireland farmers can only stand back and watch as other regions move ahead with tackling this costly disease by at least tackling all sources of the disease.”