It is still too early to breathe a full sigh of relief over brucellosis
Published 06/10/2009 | 05:00
Ireland was declared brucellosis free on July 1. The EU has approved Ireland our brucellosis-free status. Hallelujah. The road to brucellosis eradication was strewn with misery and mistakes, with a few saboteurs thrown in.
At its height in Ireland, brucellosis abortion was an awful scourge. It was seen as a much greater problem than TB. The fear of the abortion storm was immense. The compensation for herd depopulation was costly for the State and, more often than not, left the herd owner short as well.
A farmer that I met recently was free of brucellosis until 2002. Then it hit. Dead and dying calves slung all around his yard and cubicles. He still shivers when he remembers the smell in the air. Not only did it bring misery and devastation to dairy and beef herds, but brucellosis is also a serious threat to humans. Over the years it took a particular toll on vets and farmers through undulant fever. The pasteurisation of milk gave a measure of protection to consumers but vets and farmers were vulnerable when handling and calving infected cows. So it's good riddance to brucellosis.
Unsurprisingly, the country is now patting itself on the back. Farm minister Smith described securing official brucellosis free status as "a landmark in the history of disease eradication in Ireland", and said that this success was due to a number of factors, not least the full co-operation of all the stakeholders in the eradication regime.
The campaign to eradicate brucellosis from Ireland began way back in 1965. At that stage 15pc of herds were infected, ranging from 2pc in Mayo to 30pc in the south. It took 44 years to bring us to the stage we are at today.
Should eradication have been achieved faster? Could farmers and herd owners have been saved millions of pounds/euro?
In Ireland it was decided to begin the eradication in the northern counties where infection levels were lowest. With hindsight that was mistake number one. Reactor cow herds in Leinster were depopulated only to be replaced with other infected heifers and cows from the south where brucellosis was rife.
In the south west, counties Cork, Kerry and Limerick were the fountainhead of the Irish cattle supply to the rest of the country. Even though brucellosis prevalence here was 30pc, this monster had to be tackled to protect the country as a whole.