Northern Ireland farmers shoot down compensation cut suggestion for TB-infected cows
Northern Ireland farmers have shot down a suggestion compensation for cattle affected by TB should be cut, saying such a measure would not be accepted until "meaningful action" is taken to eradicate the disease in wildlife.
Farmers were reacting after a report found one in eight cattle herds in Northern Ireland are affected by bovine tuberculosis.
Ulster Farmers' Union deputy president, David Brown said while it supported parts of a report from the Comptroller and Auditor General, it would not be backing calls for a reduction in compensation until meaningful action was taken in tackling TB in wildlife - not just in cattle.
He instead reiterated the representative body's suggestion that farmers could pay a levy to the costly effort to eradicate TB.
The disease remains a common problem, despite around £40m a year being spent trying to eradicate it - with around £500m being spent over the past half century since the introduction of the bovine TB eradication programme.
Since 2006, £158m has been paid to farmers for the compulsory eradication of 127,500 cattle under the bovine TB eradication scheme.
One of the recommendations included in the report states: "To drive home the need for shared ownership of the problem and to reduce the burden on the public purse, the Department should take steps to reduce compensation."
It is suggested the cuts in compensation could come from putting a "realistic cap" on the amount paid for each animal and a reduction in paying 100% market rate.
UFU deputy president Mr Brown said: "Until there is meaningful action taken to address TB in wildlife, farmers will not accept any cuts to compensation. We are beyond frustrated.
"TB has plagued the countryside for decades and we are no closer to eradication. This is despite huge efforts by industry and government, which has cost both farmers and taxpayers millions of pounds annually. Something has to change."
On the financial contribution farmers could make, Mr Brown said: "The establishment of a statutory/compulsory levy, controlled by farmers and held by an industry body, would help to address bovine TB.
Past attempts have been made in the past to change the current levels compensation is paid at, but the proposals were not supported by the Northern Ireland Assembly's Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs Committee.