I propose to take Questions Nos. 117 and 122 together. I thank Deputy Browne for his question and congratulate him on his recent election.
Herd test history statements and reports are issued to all cattle herdowners with the aim of helping them to reduce the risk of bovine TB in cattle herds. The bovine TB forum interim report identified the need to provide more effective information to farmers to help them reduce the risk of TB in their herd and advocated for the development of herd risk categories that are “simple, clear, and convey sufficient information to enable farmers to make the decisions appropriate to their situation”. Against this background, the Department developed individualised reports that provide a simplified TB herd risk category for farmers, with herd-specific advice on how to reduce risk of TB.
There is a large, robust body of scientific evidence on bovine TB and this scientific evidence underpins the advice contained in the herd history statement. Furthermore, the content of the statement is consistent with the advice that has been provided by my Department for several years, including in newsletters, videos, leaflets and other media. Farmers are already provided with information in regard to their TB risk, but this report presents this in a new and user-friendly format.
Following many successful years of reducing bovine TB levels to the benefit of the farming community, there has been a concerning incremental increase in the disease since 2016. This has continued in 2020, with further increases in herd incidence and reactor numbers observed. Herd incidence on a 12-month rolling basis has breached 4% for the first time since 2012 and reactor numbers have exceeded 20,000, the highest number since 2009. These trends highlight the need for urgent action by all stakeholders to manage the risk more effectively across all transmission routes. It is this need for action that is my Department’s primary motivation in issuing the herd history statements.
While the immediate trends are disappointing and worrying, great progress has been made over the past decade. During 2009, some 5,860 herds were subject to restriction while the number in 2019 was down to 4,060. By working together, we have made progress previously and we need to make progress again. I have listened carefully to the concerns raised by farmers following the issuance of these letters and I am eager to schedule a TB forum meeting as soon as possible to further develop a shared understanding of how, collectively, we can reduce TB incidence.
My Department remains committed to reducing TB in Ireland, as demonstrated by the recent sanctioning of an additional 16 officers to assist the TB programme. Attaining TB-free status remains critical from a farm family profitability and sustainability perspective, and from a trade perspective at national and international level. I am acutely conscious that every TB restriction represents a significant challenge to the farm family concerned. It is a deep regret that, today, more than 2,700 herds are currently restricted, which represents a 21% increase on the same time last year. I want to work with all stakeholders to ensure fewer herdowners experience the challenges associated with a TB restriction and that we all work purposefully towards eradication of this disease, thus eliminating this ongoing cost on farmers and the State.
Separately, I understand some queries have been raised in respect of GDPR. I know the letters were designed to be in line with European and national legislation, taking account of data that is already available to herdowners. My Department will engage fully with data protection concerns that are raised in regard to the TB letters.