THE Pedigree Cattle Trust (PCT), which promotes Northern Ireland’s world-class pedigree herds and advocates on behalf of local cattle breeders, recently hosted a seminar focusing on bovine tuberculosis (bTB) and the fact that there is no target date set for the eradication of this disease in Northern Ireland.
More than 200 delegates heard how the disease is spreading and control seems to be at least 10 years away. The PCT believes that farmers, which could be adversely affected by DAERA proposals, should not ‘fund failure’.
Brian Walker, chairman of the PCT, explains: “The impact of bTB on the farming industry is significant. As a body, we do not understand why the Republic of Ireland can reduce the disease problem while Northern Ireland continues to have an increased incidence of the disease due to a refusal from government to adopt the same policy as its counterpart in Ireland.
“When the department demonstrates that they are making significant progress in the eradication of the disease, then and only then, should the farming community be asked to help fund DAERA proposals.
“There is no justification for the suggestion that farmers should fund failure.
“It is our stance that, if the department is suggesting that farmers should be penalised in terms of a reduction in compensation because they are not doing what they are supposed to do, then it is the height of hypocrisy to suggest that farmers should contribute to the department, which is not performing the task required by the European Commission.”
If the disease is found in a herd, farmers are restricted as they cannot sell on to anyone, even an abattoir, for several months and it is estimated that bTB is in 10 per cent of herds in Northern Ireland. When you consider the investment that pedigree breeders have made in their cattle, it means that sales can be lost for an entire season, should the department go ahead with its current proposals, which are out for consultation until February 5.
“We believe that DAERA needs to take a fresh look at the whole issue of bTB, particularly around the ways in which it is tackling the disease,” Brian added.
The event was hosted by the Pedigree Cattle Trust and supported by Glanbia Cheese. Speakers at the event included David Simpson MP; Victor Chestnutt, Deputy President of the Ulster Farmers’ Union; Fraser Menzies, DAERA Veterinary Epidemiology Unit, and vet Richard Sibley.
Pioneering vet Richard Sibley, who has been carrying out research which may help eradicate bovine tuberculosis, added: “We are trialling two new tests; the first of these detects bTB in cows months before they test positive with the traditional ‘skin test’. To find out if they are infectious, a second test detects bTB in dung, showing if a cow is “shedding” – spreading – the disease. If it is, the cow is slaughtered, even though the conventional test suggests it is healthy.
“These tests are a radical change from what is traditionally done and I strongly believe the current system needs to be reviewed as cows which the original tests may pass, can be shedding infected organisms in their dung, which can potentially affect others.
“We are also looking at ways to prevent the spread of the disease by changing the conditions in which the cows are kept as well as introducing measures to ensure mothers are not passing the disease to new-born calves,” he finished.
Brian added: “As pedigree breeders, we are dedicated to improving the quality, genetics and marketability of our animals. Not only do we depend on them for our livelihood, but the standard of our local herds is also vital to the interests of the processors, retailers and ultimately the consumers.
“Collectively, there are more than 2,500 local pedigree herds and we need to ensure we have a unified and powerful voice. We want to work closely with DAERA and other government agencies with regards to the control, eradication and prevention of cattle disease, animal welfare, genomics and animal identification issues; all of which have a direct impact on the future of the industry.
“The Pedigree Cattle Trust is a catalyst and we will advocate on behalf of all local pedigree breeders as we seek to adapt to, and eventually embrace, a new environment.” To contact the Pedigree Cattle Trust, email firstname.lastname@example.org