Farm Ireland

Tuesday 20 February 2018

Call for dairy levies to prevent Johnes being 'next BSE'

Threat: Agri leader warns that Johnes disease is 'another BSE' for Irish agriculture.
Threat: Agri leader warns that Johnes disease is 'another BSE' for Irish agriculture.
Darragh McCullough

Darragh McCullough

Experts are warning that Johnes could be 'another BSE' if resources are not directed at tackling the disease.

The President of the Irish Veterinary Council, Bill Cashman, said that Johnes was a "rumbling volcano" and that Ireland "risked falling behind the curve" in terms of control of the disease.

"I'm really afraid that farmers are heading into an expansionary phase when they'll be under more pressure and have less time to pay attention to detail.

"This disease takes up to 10 years to manifest itself, and I'm worried that if we don't get to grips with this now that we'll end up with another BSE situation," he said.

With dairy levies deducted from farmers' milk cheques set to break the €20m mark, calls are mounting for more of the cash to be diverted into the fight against diseases such as Johnes and IBR.

A 15pc increase in milk supplies in 2015 looks set to swell the coffers of the farm bodies and State agencies such as Teagasc with an additional €3m of levies creamed off dairy farmer receipts.

Ornua (formerly the Irish Dairy Board), Teagasc and the Department of Agriculture are the three main beneficiaries of the 0.336c in statutory levies that were deducted from every one of the 5.6bn litres of milk that was supplied last year.

An additional voluntary levy of 0.15pc of milk value is deducted for farm bodies such as the IFA, Macra and the ICMSA.

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The IFA confirmed that levy contributed €1.6m to the association's coffers last year, with 20pc of this being diverted to Macra.

The combined total comes to over to €20.4m, but this could swell by as much as 30pc over the coming years as dairy farmers ramp up milk supplies.

When asked to comment Animal Health Ireland (AHI) chairman Mike Magan said that it was time that more of the levy pot was redeployed to tackle the looming issues like Johnes disease and IBR for the Irish dairy industry.

"We are in danger of being blocked from access to our Continental markets due to tightening IBR restrictions and the fact that we still haven't got a programme up and going here. Johnes is another problem if it is not tackled soon," he admitted.

AHI has proposed eradication programmes on both of these diseases that would cost less than €500,000 per year to run. This amount would be less than 2pc of the total that is likely to be collected in dairy levies on an annual basis in the years to come.

"Crucially, whatever money AHI gets is also totally transparent and targeted at improving the profitability of farmers," said Mr Magan.

Less than a fifth of the statutory levies are currently deducted specifically for the control of animal diseases, with the vast majority of this being used to fund the national TB and brucellosis schemes.

The Department said that bovine disease levies are an "appropriation-in-aid" and credited directly to the Exchequer.

"While they are not specifically spent on disease eradication, they are used to determine the net Vote of the Department," it said in a statement.

Mr Cashman, who is based in Cork, pointed out that 80pc of the calves that are presented for post mortem at Regional Veterinary Laboratories have not received the required amount of colostrum in their first days of life.

"Colostrum is the free drug that sits inside the cow, but we need more initiatives to get the message to farmers that if they get the basics right in protecting their calves, they will not only eliminate Johnes, but also save themselves a fortune in the process," he said.

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