£500m spent on failed bid to eradicate bovine TB in Northern Ireland

File photo
File photo

Adrian Rutherford

Around one in eight cattle herds in Northern Ireland are affected by bovine tuberculosis, a report has said.

The disease remains a common problem, despite around £40m a year being spent trying to eradicate it.

The rate of infected cattle here (12.4%) is more than double that of the Irish Republic (4.9%). The figures are set out in a report by the Northern Ireland Audit Office published yesterday.

It notes that over the last half century, around £500m has been spent on a bovine TB eradication programme here.

Auditor General Kieran Donnelly said: "The long running and costly bovine TB eradication programme has not achieved bovine TB-free status for Northern Ireland and, therefore, cannot be seen as value for money."

Bovine TB is a chronic, infectious cattle disease. It is difficult to clinically diagnose and tough to eradicate.

A bovine TB eradication programme was introduced in Northern Ireland in 1964. Over 50 years later and after spending more than £500m, prevalence of the disease remains high.

The report examines the escalating costs of the programme and the disease's continued prevalence. It outlines the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs' (DAERA) proposals to adopt a new strategic approach to control and ultimately eradicate it.

Mr Donnelly added: "Northern Ireland farmers receive 100% compensation when animals are compulsorily removed for disease control purposes. In effect, since 1998 the public purse has underwritten farmers' risk of herds contracting bovine TB.

"This has provided little incentive for the industry to share ownership of the problem. Stakeholders (government, farming industry and environmentalists) must work together if the disease is to be eliminated."

The report acknowledges that prevalence of the disease would have been significantly higher without interventions by the department.

DAERA said it would take time to examine the report.

"The bovine TB programme is vital to underpin Northern Ireland's livestock and livestock products export market estimated at £1.5bn per year and DAERA is pleased that the NIAO report notes that supporting this trade with an eradication programme is essential," it added.

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