“NORTHERN Ireland should lead the way by moving to sample BSE testing for healthy slaughter cattle over six years ahead of a promised EU proposal to cease the testing altogether,” says Ulster Unionist agriculture spokesperson Jo-Anne Dobson, MLA.
The Upper Bann MLA continued: “The EU proposal, discussed at this week’s Agriculture Committee at Stormont, allows for member states to amend their BSE monitoring programmes and move to a sample basis from this January ahead of full cessation being agreed by the EU.
“This would have been a decision welcomed by farmers across Northern Ireland given the obvious benefits of sample testing and indeed full cessation when compared to the current time consuming process.”
Mrs Dobson continued: “However the department have taken the decision to continue with the present arrangements because ‘the commission has not indicated what sample level would be appropriate’ and it is ‘unlikely that an agreed interim system could be put in place before the amended proposal to halt testing altogether is adopted’.
“It is frankly ludicrous for the department to argue this point when we have no timescale whatsoever for the final EU proposal which could be held up in red-tape in Europe for many, many months, if not years.
“As Northern Ireland has excellent tractability of its cattle herds, a situation which is far and away better than England, Scotland, Wales and the Republic of Ireland, we should always grasp opportunities to avail of any ways in which we can ease the burden on our local farmers.
“Therefore it is my belief that Northern Ireland should be leading the way, rather than filing in behind others who are ducking the decisions and adopting a wait and see approach to this issue.
“The APHIS system is a very effective tool for the way in which it allows farmers to have control over the traceability of their cattle herds. This should allow us to lead on this issue and DARD’s decision stands as a total missed opportunity to do so.
“The department have stated that they ‘intend to maintain the existing surveillance arrangements’ by continuing to test all healthy slaughter cattle over six years. They were only able to tell us that a ‘significant delay in the adoption of the proposal’ would lead them to review their decision.
“The committee agreed to my request to question the Department on the timeframe; however I am calling on them to immediately review this decision and to take the lead on this issue by moving ahead of other regions.”