Tipperary farming: fury over the issuing of TB risk reports by Department
Two of the country’s farm organisations have strongly criticised the Department of Agriculture for issuing TB Herd History Risk Statements and Reports to farmers.
“The Department have essentially taken it upon themselves to bring in herd categorisation by the back door,” said ICSA animal health and welfare chair Hugh Farrell
He said that this was unacceptable, not only from a GDPR perspective, but because the Department was increasingly showing no regard for the TB Forum negotiations, which unequivocally did not agree to this under any circumstances.
“In particular, the information sets out the risk category in relation to the herds a farmer bought stock from. While no names are used, it is clear that for the vast majority of farmers who buy in stock from a limited number of sources, it will be easy enough to identify the risk category of the sellers. For this reason, The Department may well have to answer serious questions around GDPR. Moreover, the move will inevitably lead to the devaluation of herds,” he said.
Mr Farrell said that once again changes to the TB Eradication Programme were being foisted on farmers before the work of the TB Forum had been finalised, and before the very important issues around compensation had been decided.
ICSA also has concerns about the implications of bringing unsold cattle back from the mart. The letter to farmers says that “if you bring unsold animals back from a mart, you cannot consider your herd a closed herd.”
Mr Farrell said that this was an extraordinary statement which ICSA finds objectionable.
“We have not seen any scientific research to underpin this. It will be seen as an assault on the mart trade and will interfere with the right of a seller to decide whether a fair price is being offered,” he said.
Mr Farrell said that the Department’s continued refusal to engage on wildlife spread was unacceptable.
ICSA is frustrated by the point blank refusal to take the role of wild deer seriously and the incremental moves towards badger vaccination rather than targeted culling. This letter has seriously set back the prospect of a collaborative approach to the TB programme and will be met with farmer fury,” he said.
Farmers were already asking if this had been slipped through in the absence of a Minister in the Department. It will be a key agenda item for whoever is appointed, he said.
Meanwhile, IFA animal health chairman Pat Farrell said the issuing of herd TB risk letters to farmers in response to the dramatic deterioration in TB levels was a “ridiculous and weak response”.
He said that the levels of TB had risen to unacceptable levels when we should be seeing annual reductions.
“The Department of Agriculture flap around the edges with soft touch advice and guidance while failing to address the real drivers of the problem which are beyond the control of farmers and within the responsibility of the Department,” he said.
Mr Farrell said the Department staff costs in the programme equated to €6,750 per farm with TB.
Farmers rightly expected a lot more than letters outlining their herd risk and effectively a devaluation of their animals.
Comparatively, the average amount of compensation paid to farmers was only €4,500, he said.
Mr Farrell said that the Grant Thornton Report, which was commissioned by the TB Forum, clearly and independently set out the failings of the Department in its management of the TB situation.
Mr Farrell said the current deterioration in the levels of TB was directly attributable to the ineffective implementation of the wildlife control programme and the premature commencement of badger vaccination. The Wildlife Control Programme must be rejuvenated.
“There must be a comprehensive survey carried out to ensure all setts are identified and this must be followed by a fully resourced capture programme to reduce the densities of badgers to levels where they are no longer a TB threat. The programme must also incorporate deer where associated with breakdowns,” he said.
In addition, he said, the Department must carry out thorough investigations of all TB outbreaks to determine the source of infection and remove it.
Mr Farrell said to maintain farmer support for the programme, full financial support for the impact of controls on farms was needed.
He said while farms are under Department of Agriculture TB controls, farmers must be fully supported to off-set the income loss and disturbance to their business.
“Irish farmers pay €35m a year to the TB programme, contribute an additional €20m in labour to the running of the programme and it’s time the Department of Agriculture recognised this investment and took on board the issues raised,” he said.
IFA members are rightly questioning why they should continue to fund a programme which continually ignores the impact of TB on our farms; doesn’t provide full and fair financial support; and fails to implement an effective wildlife programme to expedite eradication of the disease.