All routine farm inspections will be paused in Northern Ireland until April 30th, 2020.
Confirming the news, this afternoon (Friday, March 27th), Minister Edwin Poots said this action is necessary to protect farmers and staff and it ensures the Department’s resources can be directed in the best way. He said it also minimises disruption and provides certainty for farmers at a difficult time.
The move comes in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and is part of the wider effort to reduce the spread of the virus.
What inspections are being conducted?
- All routine farm inspections in the areas of the Environment, EU Area Based Scheme, Agrifood and Veterinary work, will be paused until the date specified.
- Essential inspections such as public health risk sampling, brucellosis and bTb surveillance, “will continue where possible”.
“As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, we need to take every reasonable step to protect our customers.”
“We must assess our current workload and look at what is absolutely critical to keep food moving, protect animal welfare and maintain disease control,” Poots said.
He said these are exceptional times and “our approach must also be exceptional”. “We won’t get another chance to flatten the COVID-19 curve – we must get this right, right now.”
Where it has been reported or suspected that there has been, or there is likely to be, potential for a significant impact on public health, animal health or pollution of the environment, the pausing of inspections will not apply, the statement added.
In those cases, DAERA staff may undertake site inspections on farms (or elsewhere) to assess and resolve any issues.
- Planned inspections for SMR1 (nitrates and phosphates);
- Inspections for SMR2 (Wild Birds) and SMR3 (Semi-natural Habitats)/
- EU Area-based Schemes Inspections
- Rapid Field Visits (RFVs) for the Basic Payment Scheme
- Hedge Mitigation inspections
- New Business ID inspections
- Inspections for the Farm Business Improvement Scheme-Capital Tier 2 grant payments.
Routine inspections –These include animal welfare, cross-compliance, cattle identification inspections, sheep identification inspections and enforcement inspections. The only exceptions would be reactive inspections, if absolutely necessary, to investigate serious animal welfare incidents or serious animal health breaches (for example bovine TB fraud)
- Scheduled official control inspections
- Other animal disease surveillance – including; post import sampling of GB sheep for Maedi-Visna and the scrapie monitoring scheme for sheep.
- bTB surveillance;
- Brucellosis and all suspect epizootic disease cases on-farm, such as foot-and-mouth, avian influenza, nluetongue etc. will continue to be investigated;
- Public health risk sampling
- Environmental farming scheme inspections.
“The position will be kept under review as the situation develops and a further announcement on routine inspections will be taken by April 30th. 2020.”
The Department is also considering alternative ways of working, in some cases this could be making greater use of imagery, considering different types of evidence that customers can provide, or to look at options which reduce face to face interaction.
“I also want to use the time to identify if there are better and smarter alternative ways of undertaking routine inspections which could also help protect farmers and staff going forward.
“The overall approach and proposals to pause inspections is generally in line and consistent with what is happening in other jurisdictions within the UK, for many of their routine inspection programmes. We will of course keep all these steps under review.” Poots concluded.