The Ulster Farmers’ Union has welcomed the publication of the interim report from the Bovine Tuberculosis Strategic Partnership Group.
Deputy president, Ivor Ferguson, said it was clear the present strategy, which has been in place for almost 50 years, is not working for farmers or taxpayers.
The report calls for a fresh approach and the development of a long term action plan to eradicate TB. The document will now go out to consultation before a final plan is drawn up, and the UFU says it will contribute to that debate.
“The report calls for more cooperation within the industry, and that is something we can go along with,” said Mr Ferguson. He added that the UFU understood the need for better identification of high risk areas, tighter bio-security as part of a wider strategy, and accepted that progress to reduce the incidence of TB would be slower than people would like.
“It is however crucial for us that the wildlife link to badgers is not parked. This must be central to any long-term strategy,” said Mr Ferguson. “The report acknowledges that in high risk areas a strategic programme of badger removal should be considered. This is something we welcome, and we will be pressing for the various options highlighted to be explored,” said Mr Ferguson. He added that the UFU recognised that this was a difficult issue, and that finding ways to tackle the wildlife link economically would be a major challenge.
“We cannot however lose sight of the goal of finally eliminating this disease and the costs it brings for farmers and taxpayers, now estimated at up to £30 million a year. There are big challenges to turn this interim report into a road map to eradication – but we cannot lose sight of the goal everyone shares – a healthy cattle and a healthy badger population,” said Mr Ferguson.
Sean Hogan, chairman of the TB Strategic Partnership Group, in launching the report with his fellow group members said: “I am delighted to be able to present our interim report and consultation. We look forward to hearing, over the coming months, from all those with an interest in working together to eradicate this disease.
“This report encapsulates the thoughts and opinions of all those with whom we have met, including representatives of the farming community, veterinary practices, DARD, environmentalists and conservationists, along with recognised experts in TB, from other jurisdictions from across the world.
“We hope that everyone will read the whole report and let us have their thoughts and ideas on the potential options outlined, as we believe that a radical and innovative approach to tackling this disease is the only way forward.”
Acknowledging the extensive evidence gathering by the TBSPG over the past six months Minister O’Neill said: “This interim report, represents the results of the
dedicated and thorough consideration by the TB Strategic Partnership Group of the seemingly intractable issue of bovine TB eradication.”
The report will now be the subject of a consultation process by the TBSPG.
Minister O’Neill said: “Bovine TB has a devastating impact on farm families and it is my desire to progressively reduce, and then eradicate, the scourge of TB. I therefore urge all stakeholders and interested persons to give this interim report the full consideration it deserves; and to respond to all the questions posed therein.
“It is important that the subject of TB eradication is considered
in a holistic, and not in a selective, way.
“We need to be able to determine what the priority actions are; and how we achieve the greatest reduction in the level and cost of bovine TB in the shortest time.”
At Minister O’Neill’s meeting with the TBSPG at Parliament Buildings, Stormont, she re-iterated her desire to eradicate the scourge of TB and has encouraged all stakeholders to engage with the TBSPG during the consultation process.
The consultation period runs until 4th September and the Group intends to continue their engagement with key stakeholders. They are due to produce their final report for Minister O’Neill attention by the end of the year.
The report, which is available on line, can be accessed at http://www.dardni.gov.uk/tbspg-interim-report.