‘Farmers will play an active role in eradicating bTB’

Farmers will play their part in helping to eradicate Northern Ireland’s fast growing bovine tuberculosis (bTB) problem, according to Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) deputy president Victor Chestnutt.

He said this is the one issue that gets farmers very angry at the present time.

“The disease is currently on the increase. Yet the Department of Agriculture is only tackling the disease in 50% of the affected animals,” he added.

“Livestock farmers know that wildlife, including badgers, represents a very significant reservoir of the disease and this challenge must be tackled with equal resolve.”

Chestnutt does not want Northern Ireland’s badger population eradicated.

“The end game will be that of ensuring that our cattle and badger populations are completely free of the disease, at which stage both groups can live in total harmony with each other,” he said.

Chestnutt has also confirmed that the UFU will submit its submission to the current Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) public consultation on bTB by the end of this month. While not wishing to second guess the thoughts of the various committee members involved in the drawing-up of UFU policy on the matter, he suggested that farmers could help fund a future badger cull.

“Securing agreed levies from beef and dairy producers might be one way forward in this regard. However, farmers will never agree to accept anything less than an animal’s full market value when it comes to government paying for reactors that have been removed in the wake of a TB test.”

The Union has also met DAERA regarding the decision to push ahead with the appointment of a new bTB eradication panel while the consultation process is ongoing.

He said: “We expressed our annoyance regarding this matter. However, we also recognise the need to have a new steering group in place in order to get on with the bTB eradication process as quickly as possible.

Farming Life asked DAERA to comment on why the decision was taken to seek members for the new panel when TB Eradication Strategy consultation has not closed.

A spokesman said: “The incidence of bTB has continued to increase over 2017 and the Department is very aware of the farming industry concern and frustration at the lack of implementation of the TB Strategic Partnership Group’s recommendations.”

“The Department believes it is important to demonstrate to the farming community and key stakeholders that they have a meaningful and influential position in re-focused efforts to implement enhanced and innovative actions to address bTB in Northern Ireland.

“The Department is therefore proceeding with the recruitment of a chair and members to establish a new Northern Ireland TB Eradication Partnership. These appointments will be for an initial one year period. It is viewed as important that the TBEP is established as early as possible to allow it to work with the Department in considering the feedback from the consultation on the development of a long term bTB eradication strategy and to assist in driving that strategy forward.

“The new TB Eradication partnership is the primary tier of new governance arrangements being put in place to provide expert oversight of a new strategy to drive forward the eradication of bovine Tuberculosis in Northern Ireland. In addition three sub-regional boards are being proposed which will be involved in the operational planning of the bTB programme and ad hoc local disease response teams which will be set up in the event of severe bTB outbreaks. It was not felt appropriate to establish the sub-regional and local structures at this stage. The views expressed in the responses to the current consultation, and those of the TBEP, when established, will be important in both their design and role.”