“We all know that farmers want to see the eradication of TB, but it is clear that DARD is engaged in an ill-conceived and a deeply flawed strategy which proves they have no intention whatsoever of seriously tackling the issue of TB in cattle.”
This was the stark criticism from Ulster Unionist Agriculture spokesperson Jo-Anne Dobson MLA following a TB briefing from DARD officials at this week’s Agriculture Committee at Stormont.
She said: “Farmers don’t want compensation, they want healthy animals. The Department's current strategy is totally failing to work towards this goal and once again they are totally letting down our farmers.”
The Department have conducted two surveys in Banbridge and Castlewellan where they have received permission from farmers to survey 74.5% and 60.8% of the land in both areas respectively.
Continuing the Upper Bann MLA said: “Whilst DARD admit their design is ‘complex’ it was clear from their briefing that there are serious flaws within the plan.
“Firstly, in order to proceed it is vital that DARD gets the support of both the Finance Minister and the Environment Minister. I questioned the officials on what their plan was if they did not receive this support and it was confirmed to me that ‘there is no Plan B.’
“We were also told that the outline business case to present to the Finance Minister has yet to be written.
Whilst DARD describe their strategy as a ‘balanced approach’ it is clear that it is anything but.
“Another area where officials have failed to even come up with a Plan A is to measure the impact which their scheme will have on infected wildlife and cattle on the lands adjoining the 100km2 study areas.
“Research has shown that similar schemes can increase incidences of the disease in areas outside the boundaries and this will need to be measured. But, it was confirmed to me that DARD hasn’t yet sought permission from these farmers and land owners to carry out what they call ‘ecological studies’ on their land.
“Again, this exposes yet another major factor which could influence the results of their TVR intervention plans.
“If DARD are truly serious about eradicating TB and ending the millions of pounds of public money which is spent on compensating the farmers affected, then they will need to work with the farmers and keep them fully involved at all stages.”