To ask the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food the cost to the State since the introduction of schemes to eradicate TB and Brucellosis; if he is satisfied that these schemes are effective; and if he will make a statement on the matter. – Anthony Lawlor.
For WRITTEN answer on Tuesday, 27th September, 2011. Ref No: 26427/11
The Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food: (Simon Coveney):
The information sought by the Deputy is not readily available and it would place excessive demands on scarce staff resources in the Department to compile this data.
I should explain, however, that the cost of the Bovine TB and Brucellosis programmes has declined considerably over the past 10 years or so arising from the effective eradication of Brucellosis from the country and the substantial reduction in the incidence of TB. For example, the cost of the two eradication schemes (excluding staff costs) has fallen from almost €82m in 1999 to just over €40m in 2010. A significant element of the costs relates to the payment of compensation to farmers and payments to private veterinarians for herd tests.
With regard to Brucellosis, the eradication scheme has been extremely effective and has enabled this country to be declared officially free of Brucellosis by the European Community in 2009. Following the achievement of this status, my Department has gradually scaled down the testing regime, with the result that the number of blood tests carried out annually has declined from 4.7m in 2008 to 2.9m last year. The cost of the programme in 2010 is estimated at €4.2m compared with €6.5m in 2008 and €35m in 1999. The changes made to the testing regime will result in significant savings for Irish farmers in terms of reduced testing costs. I will take a decision before the end of the year on the testing arrangements for 2012 following consultation with the farming organisations. My decision will be risk based and will take account of the continuing existence of disease in Northern Ireland, on the one hand, and the desirability of removing costs both for farmers and the Department, on the other.
With regard to TB, my Department’s eradication programme includes a comprehensive range of measures, including the mandatory annual testing of all cattle in the national herd, the restriction of holdings where reactors are disclosed, risk-based testing of herds contiguous to infected herds, the early removal of reactors, a wildlife programme involving the targeted removal of badgers where they are implicated in a TB outbreak, the use of the gamma interferon test in problem herds, the depopulation of infected herds, where appropriate, and the payment of compensation to farmers whose herds are affected by disease.
Bovine TB is a much more intractable disease than Brucellosis, partly because of the presence of TB infection in wildlife. Nevertheless, there has been a significant improvement in the incidence of this disease over the last few years. For example, herd incidence has fallen from 7.7% in 1999 to 4.6% last year and reactor numbers in 2010 were, at 20,200, the lowest recorded since the commencement of the programme in the 1950’s. The cost of the programme has declined from €47m in 1999 to €36.2m last year, largely as a result of the reduction in the incidence of the disease.
Reactor numbers and herd incidence have continued to fall in 2011 and it is likely that reactor numbers will fall below 20,000 this year, which will represent a new record low. If reactor numbers remain below 20,000 this year, we will have seen 3 years of very low disease levels and I am hopeful that the incidence of this disease will continue into the future. Notwithstanding the difficulty in attributing trends to a single factor and the cyclical nature of the disease, my Department believes that much of the improvement in the disease situation is due the badger removal programme.
The TB eradication programme in Ireland, which implements many of the provisions of EU trade Directive 64/432/EEC, is necessary for the continued export of live cattle and beef to other Member States and, in effect, has underpinned the growth of the Irish cattle and beef industry, which is worth over €2 billion per year, by creating and enhancing export opportunities. There are also public health benefits from implementing the programme. The cost of the eradication programme has to be seen in this context.
My Department will continue to monitor and review the effectiveness and efficiency of the TB eradication programme on an on-going basis with a view to the eventual eradication of this disease in all areas.