The Ulster Unionist Party has announced it will ‘strongly and vehemently’ oppose any efforts by DAERA to begin charging farmers for their first TB test each year.
Contained within the current public consultation on eradicating Bovine Tuberculosis (bTB) is a proposal that the cost of the first annual herd test would be passed to each farmer.
The party’s agriculture spokesperson Robin Swann MLA said tackling bTB has supposedly been a Government priority for years now, yet the situation locally is still only getting worse rather than better.
He continued: “The current DAERA consultation includes a number of new measures intended to tackle the disease. It couldn’t have come soon enough as bTB continues to blight our local agricultural industry.
“The discovery of a reactor is often a hammer-blow to the operation of any farm business and for years now there has been an appalling head in the sand attitude from consecutive Agriculture Ministers at Stormont.
“That is why I am particularly frustrated that DAERA have decided to use the opportunity to introduce what is nothing more than an underhanded money raising ploy. If the Department get their way local farmers will be charged £54.50 for the first animal tested and £2.50 for all others up until 100. Given the average size of a herd in Northern Ireland is 82 that means local farms will typically have to pay £257 each and every year moving forward.
“I would have slightly more sympathy for the Department if we could be sure that the savings being made were going to be redirected towards other measures aimed at tackling the disease, but we know that just won’t happen. Even if they came out today and said that this would be the case, I still wouldn’t believe them – there are dozens of examples across Government Departments where money was supposedly raised for one thing but then spent on something entirely different,” added Mr Swann.
“I understand the Department is under pressure financially – just like all the others – but instead of trying to fill the gap by charging farmers, the more reasonable thing to do would be to reduce their shocking administrative costs.
“Until DAERA can prove that it is actually determined to make significant progress to wiping out the disease it is wrong for them to try to pass the responsibility of paying for the disease onto hard-pressed farming families.
“I’m also aware that there are some within the industry suggesting an annual levy of £1-£3 per animal, but again my experience of working with DAERA and other Executive Departments is that this would simply be a cloak to raise additional income each year. If we are not careful farmers could very easily end up talking themselves into a mandatory levy but with absolutely nothing in return.
“Eradication of bTB will never be achieved with piecemeal efforts and unfortunately I remain to be convinced that DAERA are approaching this issue with the right attitude and priorities. This is an important opportunity to get the right approach to tackling TB. We can’t afford to let it slip by, but equally we can’t afford to let DAERA get away with nothing other than money raising ploys.”