Ulster Unionist Party Leader Robin Swann MLA has echoed calls for greater emphasis to be paid to the economic issues surrounding bovine TB and the subsequent mental health impact it has on farmers.
He was commenting after the Farmers’ Union of Wales warned that their future TB compensation policies, which could soon possibly see lower compensation rates being introduced, will undoubtedly increase mental health issues and hardship amongst the Welsh farming community.
Mr Swann said: “It’s ridiculous that TB is still so seriously blighting the Northern Ireland farming industry. The discovery of a reactor can have a seriously detrimental impact on the operation of a farm business as the subsequent closure can lead to their animals literally eating into what limited marginal profits should have been made from their sale.
“The disease is costing Northern Ireland taxpayers around £40m a year in testing and compensation outlays, impacts around one in 10 farm businesses and the inconvenience to farmers through regular testing and closed herds is incalculable.
“For a long time it’s been obvious that Northern Ireland has been lagging behind the rest of the UK in responding to TB. Instead of incidence rates improving, even slowly, they’ve been getting worse in recent times. After so much money, time and research – as well as unrelenting frustration from farmers - that simply shouldn’t be the case.
“Farmers locally have grown totally weary of this disease - some have been closed for so long that operating anyway normally is now impossible. A number have even contacted my office in recent times saying that they are on the verge of breaking point as a result of the restrictions.
“Those farm businesses especially do not need further worries now from DAERA about possibly slashing the NI compensation rates and introducing charges to have a test carried out for a disease which the Department have themselves totally failed to tackle.
“Given that mental health is inextricably linked to farm business sustainability I completely agree with the calls from the Welsh Farmers’ Union that the full consequences of this disease should be considered.
“Northern Ireland already has the worst rates of poor mental health of any region in the UK and I suspect that the pressure of TB weighing down on local farmers is doing absolutely nothing to change that. Not only would it make financial sense to tackle, and hopefully one day eradicate TB, it’s also something that is long overdue for the wellbeing of our overburdened farming communities.”