Portadown-based solicitor Brian Walker has submitted a wide ranging response to the Bovine TB Review Group on behalf of Holstein NI, within which he points to a number of “glaring weaknesses” in DARD’s current disease control measures.
“It is impossible to test accurately for TB in cattle using present scientific methods. Any suggestion that it is possible to eradicate the disease through testing is therefore unfounded,” he said.
“Apart from the Irish Republic there is no other country in the world that has a similar farming pattern to Northern Ireland. The majority of farmland is let in conacre: there is a patchwork of relatively small farms and there are a comparatively high number of movements of cattle between date of birth and date of slaughter.
“Whilst there may be arguments about the extent to which wildlife contributes to the increase in the disease there is nevertheless a very real need by Government to produce a coordinated strategy which is transparent and which seeks neither to endanger the existence of any species or to contribute to the unnecessary slaughtering of large numbers of cattle.”
With regard to future TB control and eradication measures, Walker made a number of key suggestions. These include the recognition by the Department that any initiatives which they take to encourage farmers should be based on scientific evidence.
“DARD should employ the Behavioural Insight Team to produce a report with recommendations as to how farmers can be nudged in the right direction, where TB policy is concerned.
“The Behavioural Insight Team is an organisation supported by the cabinet office which has already been retained by another Department in Northern Ireland. It examines on a scientific basis how measures might be introduced which will encourage behaviour. Thus, rather than an unscientific programme to improve behaviour, a programme can be designed which has the best chance of success.”
Walker also called for the immediate reinstatement of DARD staff in all marts on sale days.
“The withdrawal of DARD officials from sale yards was a mistake,” he said.
“In addition, no purchaser of an animal should be able to do so without proof of identity and it should be a requirement of DARD that such identification is retained by the mart. If financial institutions are required to retain identification for clients then I see no reason why the marts should not have similar requirements.”