Ulster Unionist Agriculture Spokesperson, Harold McKee MLA, has expressed his concern after it was revealed to him by the DAERA Minister that there were 186 confirmed cases of botulism in cattle between 2011 and 2015. He has also claimed the continuing failure of the Executive to find a permanent solution to poultry litter can be seen through the increasing frequency of confirmed cases which have jumped from 10 in 2011 to 81 in 2015.
The South Down MLA said:
“I would reassure the public that they have nothing to fear from the increase in confirmed cases of botulism as the UK Food Standards Agency’s Advisory Committee on the Microbiological Safety of Food has concluded that the risks posed to the human food chain by outbreaks of botulism in cattle, associated with broiler litter, are very low.
“Botulism is, however, usually fatal in livestock and as a result causes major economic hardship to farmers as they lose valuable animals. In addition, infected animals sadly often endure suffering through muscle tremors and limb stiffness before they eventually succumb to the disease.
“Botulism is contracted when livestock come into contact with bacteria commonly found in decaying organic matter including animal and bird carcasses. Investigations by AFBI’s Veterinary Sciences Division have shown strong circumstantial evidence that broiler litter is a risk factor for many of the outbreaks across Northern Ireland.
“The revelation in answer to a question I tabled to the Agriculture Minister that there were almost 200 cases in the space of five years will surprise many, but more alarmingly is the rate at which detections are increasing. In 2011 there were 10 confirmed cases, 16 in 2012, 40 in 2013, 39 in 2014 and then a disturbing jump to 81 in 2015.
“I suspect the failure of the Executive and consecutive Agriculture Ministers to find a lasting solution to the problem of poultry litter may unfortunately be a key contributor to the increase in the number of confirmed cases.
“The Northern Ireland poultry industry is crucially important to the local agri-food sector and the wider local economy. Over recent years it has experienced major growth, now employing many thousands of people and acting as a key source of additional farm income for many hundreds of local farmers.
“It has been well known that Northern Ireland faces a challenge of what to with the significant quantity of poultry litter it is generating, as spreading most of it on farmland land is no longer viable. A previous proposal, which would have seen a plant at Glenavy convert 220,000 tonnes of poultry litter to electricity, ultimately was rejected and the Executive has been frustratingly slow to come up with any major alternatives.
“It is essential that Michelle McIllveen now recognises the importance of finding a permanent solution. Until she does, the local poultry industry here will never be able to achieve its full growth potential and we may continue to see an increase in the cases of botulism.”