Department of Agriculture officials have restated their aim to eradicate bovine TB by 2030, and urge farmers to take steps to reduce the risk of infection in their herds.
Colm Forde Principal Officer, Eoin Ryan Senior Supervisory Veterinary Inspector (SSVI), and Philip Devlin Superintending Veterinary Inspector (SVI) who works with the Area Management Team (AMT) for the northern half of the country, attended a meeting in Cootehill in late September, one of a series of nationwide to raise awareness of the TB programme, outline actions to minimise risks to herds, and compensation available.
While the 3.83% incidence of TB in Cavan herds is slightly above the national average of 3.28%, in Monaghan the figure of 7.05% is over double the national average.
“A specific TB control plan has been put in place for Monaghan,” Colm Forde told the Celt on Friday. “That has referenced things like having more targeted testings to try to protect TB free herd owners, and to help affected herd owners to get free of TB quicker. And we have an extra team to work on the wildlife issues to ensure that is addressed.”
The Department’s target is to eradicate TB within 12 years and a ‘TB Stakeholder Forum’ has been established to help meet the ambitious goal.
“TB has halved in the last 10 years – we are down to just over three per cent herd incidences. So relative to 10 years ago that’s 4,000 less herd owners affected by TB,” said Mr Forde, pointing to reasons to be confident that the eradication of the disease is “achievable with the buy-in of everybody”.
“It will involve extra measures realistically, and that’s why we want to get everyone around the table to discuss those,” he says.
Last October the incidence of TB hit 9.47% North of the border, the highest rate in a decade and the issue was raised during a Seanad debate on TB held last week. Local Senator Robbie Gallagher expressed his dismay at how Monaghan had gone from one of the lowest rates in the country to the worst within 18 months, and proceeded to quiz Minister for State Andrew Doyle on whether there was cooperation Northern authorities in tackling TB on an all-island basis. Minister Doyle replied: “I am working on the assumption Animal Health Ireland is working on an all-island basis”.
Asked by the Celt if the Border was a factor in the higher incidence of TB in Monaghan, Eoin Ryan says that the causes of TB are “multi-factorial”. He says that they are in regular contact on cross border issues with their northern counterparts who are “doing a good job”.
“It’s [the North’s higher rate] certainly something we’re conscious of, but I can’t just say straight out it’s ‘Issue X’ or ‘Issue Y’ because it’s not just one thing, like the Border. There are multiple things at play.”
Asked, of the incidences in Monaghan if there’s a concentration beside the Border, Mr Devlin says there’s “pockets” in different parts the county.
“We have increased our epidemiology which is the scientific investigation of the outbreaks, so we are hoping when we review those reports we will get more of an indication [of the factors at play]. We will be looking at all sorts of things - residual infection, infection between herds, and have a renewed focus on wildlife activity as well, and of course the border is an issue that we’re looking at, and we could maybe increase testing in some of those areas but it’s multi-factorial and it’s going to take a while – it’s not going to be a quick fix.”
In terms of their focus on wildlife Eoin Ryan says that there is no evidence that deer are a factor locally, but they are happy to test deer if requested. However Mr Ryan says that badgers “are an issue”. He notes that vaccination has been carried out in an area of south County Monaghan, “for years” while capture and removal has been used in other parts, while in TB free areas, there’s no wildlife intervention.
“We are putting more resources into wildlife control in Monaghan,” he assures. He says that there has been good cooperation with local farmers, with some identifying locations of setts on their farms to DAFM officials after meetings.
To find out more about how you can minimise the risk of herd infection, the information is available freely online at www.agriculture.gov.ie
“Something we need to do better here is to communicate that to farmers: you are not helpless in the face of this,” says Mr Ryan.
“You can’t completely eliminate your risks but you can do things that really do reduce the risk of TB.”