Written Answers. - Animal Health Problems.

Trevor Sargent

Question:

74 Mr. Sargent asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry in view of the reported increase in animal deaths in the Askeaton area, if he has satisfied himself that the Environmental Protection Agency interim report has not pinpointed the causes; and if he intends to make further resources available to this investigation. [1850/96]

The Environmental Protection Agency interim report on the investigations into animal health problems at Askeaton, published on 14 December 1995, outlines the various activities undertaken by the different organisations up to the end of September 1995, the activities to be continued and those yet to be undertaken. The report makes it clear that of necessity any conclusions drawn must be tentative at this stage given that the remaining aspects of the investigations are ongoing or in some cases had not commenced at the end of September.

My Department has responsibility for the veterinary aspects. This involves a series of measures to be undertaken to establish the biochemical, haematological, pathological and other status of cattle and requires the retention of some cattle on farms in the area, the removal of some cattle to a State farm and the placement of other cattle from outside the area on the farms. To ensure the scientific integrity of the investigation, management of the cattle has to be standardised and they will be subject to ongoing and extensive monitoring in different environments.

This veterinary programme was drawn up by veterinary experts and endorsed by toxicologists from both the UK and the US who confirmed that the success of these studies depends largely on the complete co-operation of the affected farmers.

Agreement has been reached with one of the farmers for the lease of his farm while the Department has purchased the other farm for the investigation. Aspects of the investigation have commenced, including the epidemiological survey, the placement of fresh cattle on one of the farms and the removal of cattle from that farm to Abbotstown. The investigation on the other farm will commence shortly when facilities thereon have been adapted.

The interim report makes it clear that the veterinary investigation is essential to seek to establish whether the health problems were caused by other factors such as diseases, nutritional problems such as mineral deficiencies arising from natural characteristics of the soils in the area and farm practices. These aspects are to be examined in the proposed veterinary studies and the work carried out by Teagasc. The Environmental Protection Agency report records that the toxicologists have not discounted the possibility that one or more factors may be working in combination with environmental pollution to produce an adverse effect where either on its own would be non-harmful. Thus the explanation for the problem could be quite complex and its identification dependent on a full examination of all aspects of the investigation. This implies that reliable conclusions are unlikely to be possible until all of this work is complete.
Given all the circumstances and the importance of this investigation, I can assure the House that the necessary resources will be available to ensure that the veterinary investigation and joint research projects proceed on a sound scientific basis and in a fully transparent manner.