Founded over 12 months ago the Pedigree Cattle Trust is firmly focused on improving the health status of farm animals and safeguarding the genetic investment made by breeders.
The organisation represents the province’s main dairy and beef breed clubs and societies, and is headed up by chairman Brian Walker.
Speaking at a breakfast seminar attended by industry representatives, pedigree breeders and politicians at the 150th Balmoral Show, Mr Walker outlined a 2015 EU report on DARD’s attempts to eradicate bovine TB in Northern Ireland.
“I remind you that we are now in 2018 but I quote from the 2015 report,” he said.
“In 2009 the Audit Office instructed DARD to adopt a more strategic approach with a clear focus on eradication of the disease rather than mere containment.
“In November 2012 the Agriculture Committee of the NI Assembly asked DARD for immediate action to tackle the increasing incidence of the disease.
“In 2013 DARD gave an undertaking to strengthen the programme.”
Mr Walker continued: “The EU Report stated that the programme had not been as effective as expected, and that the current policy on depopulation was not based on a sound basis. It also stated that the department paid limited attention to giving adequate advice to farmers and vets.
“The document further stated that the department was constrained by socio-political factors to implement measures based on the evidence that they had received, and as a result efforts had been ineffective.”
Three years after the damming report issued by European Commission and the situation on the ground is worse than ever.
Mr Walker added: “The Pedigree Cattle Trust has issued a lengthy response to the department’s consultation paper. The PCT has also consulted experts and gathered scientific information from a wide range of sources despite the fact that it has very limited resources itself but, quite frankly, it seems that the department is closed.
“DAERA is not willing to import any new blood. So far as we can see the department is closed and awaiting further testing before opening again at some future date.
“In blunt language, the Pedigree Cattle Trust has stated time and again that DAERA must stop vilifying vets and farmers and start to address the situation in a comprehensive manner.
“It is quite clear after the recent court judgment that the department cannot embark on implementation of any new policy which creates further bodies and further expenditure. Therefore, one assumes that the new TBEP body (Bovine TB Eradication Partnership) which the department are in haste to establish will be stillborn.
“Let me be very clear, the Pedigree Cattle Trust will not support dinosaur policies which threaten our extinction. Farmers should not be made to pay for failures. If we in the PCT can give our time without payment, why should any new appointed body receive payment?
“This is not to say that DAERA cannot take some immediate measures to at least start the process of reducing incidence of disease,” said Mr Walker.
“First and foremost I await any legal expert to advise me that it is not within the current ability of the department to cull infected wildlife. There is a simple process by which such animals can be identified, and it is incomprehensible that the department fail to cull infected wildlife at the same time as they cull infected cattle.”
He continued: “This is particularly so since there is well established science to suggest that badgers are much more efficient in transmitting infection of the disease than cattle are in the same process. On the other hand if the scientific evidence requires treatment of slurry, let us get on with it. We should not ignore the issue and repeat the mistake of the consultation document.
“It is well known in historical circles that the ancient Vikings were people who prized their cattle. They attempted to cure cattle disease by identifying the disease, writing the name of the disease on a piece of paper and then making the cattle swallow the piece of paper.
“I had thought this scientific process had gone out of fashion until I read the recent questionnaire which has to be completed at the end of every TB test. The questionnaire is of course not to be revealed to anybody other than the farmer and the vet, and so it is obviously extremely useful in eradication of the disease. On the other hand it might be such a ridiculous exercise that it best might not see the light of day.
“If you owned a football club and the manager said that you might gain promotion to the first division in 10 or 20 years, I suspect you might dispense with the services of the manager. You would hardly build a new stadium at Ballykelly.
“The Pedigree Cattle Trust is not daunted by the size of the task it has set itself. I am deeply indebted to all the farmers who have supported us. I personally want to thank our steering committee, John Martin, John McMordie, Will Short and Ann Orr.
“I have been gratified during Balmoral to be approached by complete strangers, many of whom went out of their way to express their thanks to the Pedigree Cattle Trust.
“Despite DAERA’s dismissal, Dr Sibley’s blood test has just been approved by DEFRA. The meeting which he addressed in the Seagoe Hotel in January was a huge success, where more than 200 farmers listened intently to his dissertation.
“The Pedigree Cattle Trust is ahead of its time in seeking co-operation between the various breed societies. New EU regulations on pedigree cattle registration will be effective on November 1st 2018. It will be essential that all national societies adopt the same approach to these regulations, and that they co-operate nationally in the same way as we are co-operating on a regional level.”
Mr Walker explained that within two years Johne’s Disease restrictions will be imposed by law, and that pedigree breeders must now make preparation for this.
Mr Walker added: “Northern Ireland is light years behind the Republic in realising the potential of genomics. This is the ultimate chain of DNA linking producer to consumer. Farming in the future without the benefit of this science will be futile.
“We all bemoan the age profile of the farming community, but the Pedigree Cattle Trust is intent on creating an initiative to educate young members and provide them with a recognised qualification in the breeding, marketing and management of pedigree stock.”
Concluding Mr Walker said: “Above all we must restore trust between farmers and DAERA. It is important that an Executive is re-established at Stormont. We all hope that trust will grow between all elements of our community to enable this to happen. The recent court decision on the powers of civil servants means that it is imperative that there are established lawful means of taking executive decisions.”