For too long the scourge of TB has wreaked havoc on cattle farms across Northern Ireland with little progress made in terms of eradicating the disease.
Testing cattle for TB has been going on for around 60 years at an annual cost of around £40m and yet there is no sign of it being removed from the cattle population.
Thankfully this extensive testing, milk pasteurisation and the meat inspection services mean that TB is not a human health problem here but still, something needs to change.
The consultation on the department’s proposed implementation and next steps of the bTB eradication strategy for Northern Ireland, launched earlier this summer, is to be welcomed and as the closing date looms on September 10, it is important that all farmers and interested parties take the time to make their views heard. Finding a better way forward means tackling the problem head on and convincing all stakeholders that the long-term gain of eradicating bovine TB will ultimately be worth some short-term pain.
The incidence of TB in NI livestock is less than one per cent yet the scale of the emotional and financial devastation it causes on farms is enormous. The £40m per year to run the TB scheme is only part of the wider costs experienced by farm families caught in the grip of TB, which can in some cases last well beyond a year with only intermittent periods of being free from the disease.
Some believe that since farmers get 100 per cent of the livestock value for reactor cattle that there is no incentive to help prevent further infections but that’s far from the reality.
There is no account taken of the income lost as a result of lower milk or livestock sales, the inability to buy in replacements or even the cost of having to retain stock which would otherwise have been sold as calves or stores.
Add the emotional cost of losing cattle which may have been bred for generations, the fear of further outbreaks and the inability to tackle the disease, then the actual impact on farmers is much more severe.
To enforce a cut on the market value of livestock on farmers who operate closed herds and/or who have good biosecurity measures in place on their farm is unfair. If cuts or additional costs are to be part of the solution, then the wider wildlife issue must be addressed too and not left for farmers to bear all the responsibility for.
According to the most recent roadkill figures, the incidence of TB in the NI badger population is 17 per cent. To allow this level of infection to continue is wrong.
Both farmers and badger conservation groups want this rate lowered so some action must be taken. A disease incidence of 17 per cent isn’t helping the badgers welfare so why resist efforts to lower this?
A cull in areas where TB is rife has been shown to be effective and eventually leads to healthier populations of both cattle and badger. Short-term pain for long-term gain.
Much has been written about animal welfare and of course it is an important consideration but for too long the farmers’ welfare has not been a top priority. After decades of the ‘same old, same old’ approach, it’s time to break the cycle with fresh thinking and a new determination to finally crack the surge of TB.
It could be the opportunity of a lifetime but as is always the case, the opportunity needs to be taken within the lifetime. So, before the consultation period closers, make the time to answer the six questions and have your views heard.
n The consultation can be found on the DAERA website and is open until September 10.