Ulster Unionist Party Leader, Robin Swann MLA, has laid the blame for the continuing prevalence of bovine TB and the escalating costs incurred to the public purse, squarely at the door of the local Department of Agriculture and its lack of action.
He was commenting on the publication of a report by the Comptroller and Auditor General that found the current bovine TB eradication programme cannot be seen as representing value for money.
Robin Swann, the UUP’s agriculture spokesperson and former President of the Young Farmers’ Clubs of Ulster, said:
“TB has been blighting thousands of local farms every year for far too long now, strangling cash flows and disrupting the continuity of herds. The discovery of a reactor often comes as a body blow to a family farm and the subsequent costs of compensation and additional testing requirements has led to the overall bill to the public purse spiralling to the level it is now at.
“There is a deep sense of frustration right across the farming community in Northern Ireland as they have been forced to keep enduring the realities and hardships of this disease. Local farmers are particularly incensed at what they see as inaction from the Agriculture Department on tackling the problem.
“For far too long now farmers have had to endure both Ministers and senior departmental officials who paid lip service to the issue and never appeared to really grasp the devastating impact the disease. It has long been recognised that the disease needs to be tackled head-on, and that eradication will never be achieved with only piecemeal, tokenistic efforts or more talk.
“The debate on whether badgers spread TB has already come and gone. Even the European Commission's bTB sub-group, which comprises veterinary experts from across the EU have stated in the past that there was ‘considerable evidence' to support the removal of badgers in order to improve the TB status of both badgers and cattle. That is why that I firmly believe that until we start tackling the reservoir of the disease in the local badger population, Northern Ireland will never be able to get to grips with the problem.
“Whilst England is moving steadily towards their target of officially bovine TB free status by 2038 – with tackling the problem of badgers a key component part of their efforts - such a scenario still sounds like a total fantasy for Northern Ireland.”