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Opinion: We can eradicate TB once and for all  

Livestock and Meat Commission for NI (LMC) Chief Executive Ian Stevenson, shares his views on TB eradication in Northern Ireland.

The ongoing review of the Bovine TB (bTB) testing and eradication policies followed in Northern Ireland can provide a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to eradicate the disease, once and for all.

Total eradication can be achieved. Low incidence countries like New Zealand are role models for us with clear strategies and plans to eradicate the disease.

And, of course, here in NI, we have already managed to eradicate Brucellosis.

TB eradication in Northern Ireland

The upfront costs associated with the current bTB testing, associated administration and compensation measures amount to £40m per annum.

Yes, farmers receive direct compensation for the removal of reactor animals.

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However, this figure does not compensate for the subsequent loss of income, incurred by the impacted businesses.

Nor do the current compensation measures take account of the upheaval caused to animals by the actual bTB testing process and the toll this takes on their subsequent performance.

bTB has upfront disease-related implications for Northern Ireland.

Emotional stress for farm families

But one also has to factor in the animal welfare challenges it poses for livestock and, perhaps most importantly of all, the emotional stress it causes entire farming families.

Farmers do not want to lose cattle, particularly animals that they have bred-up over many generations.

In many ways, it is not possible to put a figure on the loss incurred by farming families in having a lifetime’s work taken away from them, through no fault of their own.

Also, bTB is having a very negative impact on the sustainability of the farming industry as a whole.

bTB levels have remained stubbornly high for the last number of years. It is obvious that the current programme of testing and removal of cattle is not working to eradicate this disease.

What is more, other countries around the world are fully aware of this fact.

New markets

The reality is that bTB eradication could open up better access to many new markets worldwide for our beef while also allowing us to increase our footprint across existing markets.

Beef sales from NI to external and export markets are currently valued at £1.3 billion per annum. This figure could be enhanced significantly on the back of a successful bTB eradication campaign.

This would be a good news story, not just for farming, but for the economy as a whole.

The goal of eradicating bTB represents a win: win scenario for NI, from so many perspectives.

Proposed solution

Future eradication policies must recognise that wildlife populations represent a reservoir of bTB with badgers the most obvious infection source in this regard.

Whether it is a case of cattle giving the disease to badgers, or vice versa, is irrelevant at this stage.

The reality is that both animal populations represent a source of bTB infection. As a consequence, steps must be taken to eradicate the disease from the two groupings.

Total eradication of bTB must be our clear objective moving forward. Securing this objective will be good news for cattle, badgers and the economy as a whole.

The ongoing public consultation on the matter ends on Friday, September 10th.

[Note: Article extracted from the LMC‘s weekly newsletter]

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To contact That’s Farming’s news team, email – [email protected] 

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