Last chance saloon for TB eradication

The work of the recently established TB Strategic Partnership Group has been likened to a ‘last chance saloon’ for the farming sector – and all associated stakeholder groups – in terms of eradicating bovine tuberculosis in Northern Ireland.

“If we don’t do our job properly now then it could be at least another 25 years before the industry has the energy and the wherewithal to tackle the problem again,” said partnership chairman Sean Hogan.

Earlier this week Hogan and his group member colleague Dr George McIlroy met up with Farming Life’s Richard Halleron to discuss the role of the newly formed organisation. Both confirmed that the total eradication of TB is their primary goal.

“And this is an achievable target,” said McIlroy. “We have the tools to get on top of the disease: it’s a case of using them in a different way than has been the norm up to this point. Countries like Australia and New Zealand have managed to eradicate TB, so I see no reason why we cannot replicate their success stories here in Northern Ireland.”

Hogan made it clear that every facet of the TB problem will be addressed by the group.

“This includes the wildlife issue,” he stressed. “We know that badgers harbour TB. And in some areas the same could be said for deer. We cannot ignore these realities. Our objective is to ensure that we end up with healthy populations of cattle and all relevant wildlife groupings.”

Where practising vets are concerned, both group members confirmed that a thorough review of the current TB testing contractual arrangements, involving practitioners and the Department of Agriculture, will be undertaken.

“We will look at the feasibility of introducing lay testers,” said Hogan. “But, fundamentally private veterinary practitioners must take on a stronger advisory role with farmers when it comes to putting in place effective TB eradication measures. For their part farmers must commit to improving biosecurity measures on their farms.”

Both Hogan and McIlroy admitted that Northern Ireland presented a number of unique problems when it comes to eradicating TB, the practice of herd owners taking land in conacre being one of them.

“As a consequence many farmers are moving cattle in and out of TB hotspot throughout the grazing season, unknown to the Department of Agriculture,” said Hogan.

McIlroy expressed tremendous optimism regarding the use of new testing procedures and vaccine options in combating TB.

“These technologies are evolving and we will not hesitate in recommending their use if they show promise,” he said.”