‘The real focus has to be on the eradication of bovine tuberculosis’
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The Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs sought views on a proposed compensation cap of £5,000 per bovine removed for the purpose of disease control and a phased reduction in compensation payments to 75 per cent of each bovine’s market value.
Speaking during ministerial questions, the Agriculture Minister said the real focus has to be on the eradication of bovine tuberculosis.
“People may not think that that is a serious issue, but it is.
“It costs the executive £40-odd million each year to deal with bovine tuberculosis.
“We have reservoirs of bovine tuberculosis in the bovine population and in the wildlife population, and we need to eliminate both at the same time if we are to ensure that we can move forward and bring down that disease to a much more acceptable level, leading, ultimately, to the eradication of it in Northern Ireland, as has happened in other places.”
Providing an update on his department’s plans to deal with bovine tuberculosis, Mr Poots said there were more than 3,000 responses received following the recent consultation on the bovine TB eradication strategy for Northern Ireland.
The number of responses highlights the “significant level of interest in the proposals”, he added.
“Since the consultation closed, the responses were analysed by my officials and a summary was published on my department’s website.
“In addition to considering the consultation responses, my department is progressing the necessary environmental assessments of the proposed new strategy.
“I expect that work to be completed shortly.
“I will be in a position to take final decisions on the way forward once that work has concluded and I have had an opportunity to consider it in detail, along with the responses to the consultation, advice provided by my veterinary and policy officials, field evidence from other jurisdictions and the comprehensive business case.
“I expect to announce the decisions in February.”
On the issue of compensation, UUP MLA Rosemary Barton asked: “Is it not very unfair to a business that has lost its greatest means of income and still has bills to pay and, maybe, repayments to the bank to make, to cut, annually, the compensation that it is due?”
Mr Poots responded: “Obviously, this is a consultation, and I have outlined the response from industry to it.
“We are in the business of putting issues out to consultation, because, on the one hand, we have a public purse issue to address, and, on the other, we have the expectation of the industry.
“In the past year, we have been looking at a herd incidence rate of bovine tuberculosis, for the 12 months to November 2021, of 8·93 per cent.
“I am acutely aware that every bovine TB breakdown has an awful impact on hard-working families and that the financial pressures thereafter can be considerable and, in many respects, life-changing. In arriving at our final decision, we will take all those things into account.”
Sinn Féin’s Emma Sheerin asked if the minister will consider establishing a capital grant for farmers that would allow them to implement enhanced biosecurity measures.
Minister Poots said his department is looking at a grant aid.
“In fact, my last meeting with officials was about the capital that the Department of Finance has offered and about how there is no real prospect of us doing what we need to do and reducing the carbon in the agriculture sector with what Finance has offered us,” he added.
“If the Member has good contacts there, we would appreciate her support in getting more finance to introduce such biosecurity schemes, and also to make the impact on carbon reduction that her party would like to see but for which it is not divvying up the money that the Department of Finance holds,” Mr Poots said.