18 MAY 2020
ICSA Animal Health & Welfare chair Hugh Farrell has said farmers cannot be expected to make up any monetary shortfall in the TB Eradication Programme as a result of minor reductions in EU funding. “The Department has allowed a narrative to emerge that we are going in the wrong direction on TB eradication and that it is the fault of the farmer. Moreover, it is apparently supported by the EU decision to cut funding as a demonstrated reprimand calculated to whip farmers into submission.”
“ICSA rejects this narrative out of hand. In the first instance, the context is that the Department, with the explicit support of other stakeholders and a whole of government approach has set out successive agri-food strategies to expand our food exports based on substantial growth in the national herd. The target was to get to €19 billion agri-food exports and so far, we have surpassed €13 billion, representing over 30% growth in output. To a significant extent, this has occurred due to the increase in dairy cow numbers to 1.5 million by 2019 from 1 million before quota abolition, with a consequential impact on beef numbers.”
Mr Farrell argues that a massive increase in large herds could not happen without in itself posing some challenges to a disease eradication programme. But the bigger point is that it is simply absurd that the Department expenditure on TB is now no bigger than it was in 2012 at around €46 million. “You cannot plan for a 30% expansion in agri-food exports on the one hand and then assume that there will be no impact on costs on department programmes such as TB. So while the farmer contribution is increasing through testing more animals and through more levies, it is only fair and logical that the Department contribution should increase in line with the increase in agri-food exports to about €59 million, all other things being equal.
Of course, there is potentially a case that the Department could reduce expenditure through efficiencies and cutting out waste. However, ICSA has asked for a breakdown of where the TB scheme administration budget goes, and we have got no response yet. However, we are hopeful that the Grant Thornton review may come forward with some clarity on this.”
Mr Farrell also questioned the grounds for the EU funding cut. “Some of the figures look slightly worse such as herd incidence. However, according to the Department’s figures, the overall number of reactors for 2019 (17,058) actually went down compared to 2018 (17,491) – a drop of 433.”
The reality is that the loss of €900,000 in EU funding is a side issue compared to the bigger issues about whether the administration of the TB programme is efficient or whether the issue of deer in TB spread is being properly faced up to. Farmers are very frustrated that TB is still very prevalent in areas where deer is a factor and the Department remains in denial about the role of deer.