Farm leaders reject radical TB proposals

But agreement reached on clearer herd categorisation and more aid for those with 'chronic' disease issues

Stock image: PA
Stock image: PA
Declan O'Brien

Declan O'Brien

Radical actions to tackle the incidence of bTB in the national herd have been rejected by the Stakeholder Forum.

A draft report from the forum, whose members include the Department of Agriculture and the main farm organisations, proposed a raft of measures which it maintains "should have a significant impact on the reduction of bTB in the years ahead".

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The proposed measures include:

* A single point of contact within the Department of Agriculture for farmers whose herds are restricted by bTB;

* Increased incentives to cull animals whose bTB test results are 'inconclusive';

* Clearer categorisation of the TB status of individual herds;

* The provision of "enhanced supports" for herds deemed to have "chronic" difficulties with bTB.

However, forum chairman Michael Cronin admitted in the report that the stakeholders were unable to reach agreement "on some of the important policy proposals that would have a very positive impact on reducing TB".

The more radical actions which were initially proposed but later rejected by the forum included:

* Applying extended restrictions to herds which have had bTB recently to prevent them trading with herds with no recent history of bTB;

* Assigning bTB risk categories to all herds ranging from low to high;

* Assigning geographically-based risk categories to areas ranging from low to high;

* Enabling those purchasing cattle to know the level of risk, so that purchasers could limit the risk of buying bTB-infected cattle.

Among the measures that have been agreed by the forum is the provision of a single point of contact for herd-owners affected by bTB breakdowns.

The aim is to reduce the stress and uncertainty which farmers endure, particularly in the early days of a restriction.

It is envisaged that the contact point would be a person in the regional Department structure who could advise farmers on their options following a bTB breakdown and who would be able to receive farmer queries.

Other specific actions included in the draft report are:

The development of action plans for areas deemed to the 'blackspots' for bTB breakdowns. These plans would identify the likely reasons for the higher incidence of bTB breakdowns in a particular district and the appropriate measures to assist herd-owners in eradicating the disease from their herds.

Reducing the risk of bTB posed by badgers and deer. Indeed, the forum recommended that the Department continued its focus on the risk posed by badgers, with sufficient resources committed to the wildlife programme to optimise its implementation. In addition, it maintained that deer should not be allowed to become a maintenance host for TB.

Increased supports for herds with a "chronic history" of severe bTB or which have a pattern of repeated breakdowns. These "enhanced support herds", of which there are estimated to be 300-500, should each get a tailored bTB risk management plan. Where there is a chronic on-going problem with bTB, depopulation will be considered. In addition, these herds would be subject to a 60-day pre-movement test, and regular whole-herd tests - either skin or blood tests - with the Department paying for one set of pre-movement tests per quarter.

Clearer risk categorisation of herds for bTB is also proposed. The Department already has a system for allocating a risk status for herds based on their bTB history. This system designates herds as default risk, low risk, or high risk. However, the report claims that these risk categories are not easy to understand. The report suggests the development of revised risk categories that are "simple, clear, and convey sufficient information".

The incentivised removal of inconclusives is sought, with the report noting that cattle which have in the past tested inconclusive posed a much higher risk of developing bTB at a later stage. The Department will blood test all inconclusives that pass a skin re- test, and then blood test them again at regular intervals if the animals are still retained in the herd.

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