UFU discuss TB frustrations with DAERA

Commodity Watch is written by - Policy Officer, Dr Geoff Thompson

In recent months, members of the UFU have continued to raise concerns and frustrations around TB. These issues predominantly fall within four areas:

What is the current disease situation?

What is being done to address this?

Difficulty in getting to speak to DVOs on the phone,

Penalties for late TB testing.

On the 2/5/19, the UFU attended the quarterly TB Stakeholders Working Group where representatives had the opportunity to raise these issues directly with DAERA TB policy leads.

As of the end of February, NI herd incidence was 8.86% and animal incidence was 0.86% (Figure 1). National herd incidence has shown a steady (albeit modest) decline over the last 15 months from a 10 year high of 9.73% in November 2017. Animal incidence has fluctuated slightly but is also lower than the high of 0.92%. The picture is showing marked differences year on year between DVOs (Figure 2). For example, there has been noticeable reductions in both reactor herds and animals in Dungannon, Mallusk and Newry. However, there has been increases in L’derry/Strabane, Ballymena and Coleraine.

The UFU voiced our members’ exasperations at the lack of visible action to implement enhancements to the eradication programme almost a year after the establishment of the TB Eradication Partnership (TBEP) and over two years after the publication of the TB Strategic Partnership Group’s eradication strategy. However, officials informed representatives that due to the legislative constraints surrounding TB, many of the recommendations require legislative changes and Ministerial sign off. As such, the scope for substantive changes in the current political vacuum is extremely constrained. Given this, DAERA officials and the TBEP are continuing to finalise options and advice for when a Minister is in place so that action can be taken promptly. However, in the interim, farmers continue to be let down by politicians unwilling to collaborate to address this serious issue.

The UFU also took the opportunity to express members’ frustrations at the difficulty farmers are facing in getting to speak with DAERA vets via the phone. DAERA officials acknowledged the frustration and informed the UFU that due to budget constraints, BREXIT pressures, staffing issues and disease incidence that their DVOs are under considerable time pressure and they are unable to take every call. Officials suggested that if farmers are facing a serious issue about a breakdown in their herd that urgently needs to be discussed, that they should seek to speak in the first instance with the patch vet by phone. If this is proving to be difficult then the farmers should make an appointment with the patch vet to discuss the matter face to face at a time convenient to both parties.

Finally, the UFU’s technical team continues to address significant numbers of cross compliance penalties associated with late TB testing. In many cases, these tests are over 3 months overdue and as a result are facing penalties in excess of 35%. In some instances, the UFU’s technical team have been able to help the farmer explain valid reasons why the test was so late which has seen these penalties reduced from intentional breeches to negligent breeches which incur penalties around 3%. However, prevention is better than cure and the simplest way to avoid a penalty is to test on time. If it becomes apparent that testing on time is going to be an issue, it is important to have early discussions with your DVO and your vet to try to find a solution.

Figure 1

Figure 2