Ireland's TB Eradication Programme: Discussion

Before we commence, I remind members, witnesses and people in the Public Gallery to ensure their mobile phones are switched off as they cause interference with the broadcasting equipment.

I welcome Mr Michael Sheahan, deputy chief veterinary officer; Mr. Eoin Ryan, senior supervisory veterinary inspector; Mr. Colm Forde, principal officer; Ms Rosanne Greene, assistant principal officer; and Mr. Philip Breslin, senior veterinary inspector from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine to discuss Ireland's tubercolosis, TB, eradication programme.

I draw witnesses' attention to the fact that by virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, they are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to this committee. However, if they are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence regarding a particular matter and they continue to so do, they are entitled thereafter only to a qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and they are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person, persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable.

Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not criticise, comment on or make charges against any person or persons outside the House or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.

I invite Mr. Sheahan to make his opening statement.

Mr. Michael Sheahan

I thank the chairman. I am joined by my colleagues, Mr. Colm Forde, head of the division that looks after policy and the administration of the scheme, and his colleague, Ms Rosanne Greene. I am also joined by Mr. Eoin Ryan, the equivalent principal officer in charge of veterinary and technical aspects, and his colleague, Mr. Philip Breslin.

I thank the committee for giving the Department the opportunity to provide an update on developments with the bovine TB eradication scheme. I am sure that everybody who comes in here says thanks to the committee for this opportunity, but in this case we mean it because we have a good story to tell about progress with regard to TB.

I will outline a brief history of where we have come from. It is important to put everything in context. As members may be aware, a TB eradication programme has been in operation since the 1950s. As TB is a zoonosis - a disease of animals that can transmit to humans - the initial focus on dealing with TB in cattle was driven, in large parts, by efforts to reduce TB in the human population. Many of us will be aware from family members that at that time TB was a scourge in the human population. It was commonly known as consumption, or galloping consumption. It was estimated that 12,000 people a year died from TB in Ireland in the 1900s. It remained a serious and significant disease of people right through the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s.

The efforts that started in the 1950s to eradicate TB largely coincided with efforts to deal with TB in the human population. Not only was TB a major issue in the human population from the 1920s to the 1950s, it was a significant disease in the cattle population. When we started the scheme in the 1950s, 17% of all cattle were infected with TB. Many cattle had the clinical signs of TB, and TB mastitis and carcase condemnations were common. The efforts to eradicate TB coincided with efforts to deal with TB in the human population. We must remind ourselves that Ireland is in the lucky position that TB in people is not a significant issue with the number of cases every year relatively low. Globally TB in humans is still a significant disease. An estimated 9 million people develop TB each year and 1.5 million people die from the disease.

With regard to the reasons for having a TB eradication programme, in addition to the human health benefits to controlling TB in cattle, a TB eradication programme is essential to facilitate trade in cattle and animal products. Having a programme in place is a requirement of EU trade law. As a State that exports more than 90% of our agricultural produce, complying with trade law is essential in supporting the incomes of Irish farm families. Outside of EU law, and increasingly with Brexit, our focus turns to third country markets. We are finding that in our dealings with third country markets that TB is an issue they focus on. A recent example is our opening up of the China market to beef. One of the stipulations in the certification of beef to China relates to the TB status of the herd. For all of those reasons, it is important to have a good TB eradication programme in place.

Some graphs are included in our submission. Figure 1 gives an indication of the scale of the progress made in reducing TB levels in cattle since the programme commenced.

In the early stages of the programme, we were dealing with high levels of TB in the population. In the early 1960s, 150,000 reactors were being removed on an annual basis. We made good progress in the early years. In the 1980s and 1990s, progress stalled to a significant extent and we were bumping along at 30,000 to 40,000 reactors a year. There was a great deal of debate as to what was causing the lack of further progress. Over time, it became evident that the significant factor stymying any further progress was the wildlife reservoir. It became apparent that the reservoir, namely, the badger population, was the significant factor of which we had not been aware previously. The scientific evidence became stronger that this was the case. To deal with that, a wildlife programme was put in place in the late 1990s focusing initially on culling badgers. Since that programme was established, we have begun to make further significant progress on TB eradication. It has provided a significant boost to our efforts to eradicate TB. I will return to some figures on that in a while. It is not a simple process; because badgers are a protected species under the Bern convention, there are strict controls in place to ensure the sustainability of the native badger population. When we put a culling programme in place in an area, our veterinary inspectorate has to carry out an epidemiological assessment. A licence is then issued by the National Parks and Wildlife Service, NPWS, which limits the culling that can take place nationally to 30% of the agricultural land of Ireland. There are limits in place to what we can do in respect of culling badgers. Naturally, we have to comply with those strict conditions. While these measures are important to protect the badger, it has been argued that they pose challenges in eradicating bovine TB.

However, there have been some further developments in that regard in recent years. Following a lot of research, a BCG vaccine - the same TB vaccine as used in people, which we all received as children - has been successfully trialled on badgers in Ireland. Significant research was done on whether the BCG vaccine could be used on badgers and the research has shown that it can be successfully. The research concluded that vaccinating badgers in an area is not inferior to culling them. Vaccination is more or less as good as culling as a means to deal with TB transmission from badgers to cattle. This is a positive development, which represents a fundamental shift in our ability to move towards eradicating TB. While we were previously limited to culling badgers on 30% of the land area, there is no such restriction with vaccination. We will ultimately move to vaccinating the entire country. It is a significant development and, from a badger point of view, it is a positive one. We have done modelling work in conjunction with our colleagues in UCD which suggests that the addition of this tool will allow us, over a longer period, to think about total eradication of TB.

Since we started our badger programme in the late 1990s, the number of reactors has declined from 44,000 a year to our current levels of 16,000 to 18,000 reactors per year. The proportion of herds affected by TB has effectively halved in that time, which represents significant progress. However, if we are to make further progress, we must now add in some new measures to get us to the finishing line of eradication. Our herd incidence levels are considerably lower than levels in Northern Ireland, Wales and England. While our wildlife programme is important, it remains the case that the primary transmission route for TB is from cattle to cattle. Our programme has extensive measures in place to address this transmission path. Members will be familiar with them all. Every herd in the country is required to have an annual skin test. This is performed by private veterinary practitioners, PVPs, who have a crucial role to play in helping to achieve eradication. Thankfully, in excess of 96% of herds in Ireland test clear on this annual test.

Another diagnostic tool that members will probably have heard of in recent years is a blood test called the gamma interferon test. It is another useful tool that can help us in herds where infection has been identified. It enables us to pick up animals that are likely to be harbouring TB at a slightly earlier stage of the development of the disease. It is a useful additional tool, but it is not a silver bullet.

We carry out other risk-based testing under the programme, including, for example, where a herd might have a TB breakdown with a certain number of reactor animals. A contiguous programme is established in those circumstances, meaning that a programme of testing takes place in neighbouring herds. That is another important element of the programme.

We have spent a lot of energy and money on research in recent years. It provides key evidence that informs any policy decisions made on the TB programme. Last Friday, we brought together all of the TB research community in Ireland and the UK. This work helps enhance our understanding of the epidemiology of TB and provides clues as to how we can most effectively eradicate it. Some members will be aware that the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine has committed to eradicating TB by 2030. When achieved, this will represent a major success for Irish agriculture, and for farmers in particular. However, it will only be possible if the current eradication programme is enhanced and if all stakeholders support the programme.

International experience from Australia and New Zealand has highlighted the benefits that accrue when the public and private sectors collaborate in efforts to eradicate disease. The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine alone will not eradicate TB; it needs the support of all stakeholders to ultimately achieve eradication. That has been the experience in countries such as Australia and New Zealand which have achieved eradication. With this in mind, the Minister received Government approval when a memorandum went to Cabinet in May to establish a TB stakeholder forum with an independent chairman. The mandate of the TB forum is to develop evidence-informed policies that can eradicate TB by 2030 while respecting the principles outlined in the national farmed animals health strategy. This strategy was launched last year and has four overarching principles, which are working in partnership, acknowledging roles and responsibilities, reflecting costs and benefits and accepting that prevention is better than a cure. The overarching policy guides everything we do on the animal health front at the moment. TB falls into that category.

The Department published three consultation papers, which are available on our website, to focus on the principles relating to governance, policy options and costs and benefits to inform the TB forum's deliberations. The first meeting of the forum took place in September, and there have been monthly meetings of the main forum since then, as well as side meetings with the various stakeholders in separate sessions. To date, discussions have focused on governance and policy options. Costs and benefits are scheduled to be discussed at the next forum meeting in January. The plan is that the forum will conclude its deliberations in the first half of next year, possibly by March or April. After that, it will make recommendations to the Minister on various policy options.

We in the Department are convinced that eradication by 2030 is achievable, and will continue to engage with all stakeholders to realise this ambition. Bovine TB levels in the past three years are lower than they have been since the programme started in the 1950s, with fewer farmers affected by the financial burden and the emotional stress of having their herd locked up with disease. Figure No. 3 in the paper I have provided highlights that in many areas of the country there are very low levels of TB. It is not a universal picture; TB is not evenly spread around the country. There are significant parts along the west coast, including parts of Donegal, Mayo and Galway, and significant parts of Counties Waterford and Limerick that have very low levels of TB. While the current programme has been effective in driving levels down, the science tells us that the current programme will not be enough to eradicate TB in the short or medium term.

With what we are doing at the moment and with the addition of the vaccination of badgers being spread throughout the country in the coming years the scientific models tell us that over a long period, that will eventually lead to the eradication of TB. If we keep doing what we are doing at the moment, and perhaps do everything a bit better and a bit quicker, and add in the vaccination of badgers, we will get to the finishing line in 30 to 40 years. However, we think we could do better than that with additional measures and we are talking to the stakeholders in the forum about what they might be.

To protect cattle from the disease and to protect farmers and farm families from the burden of a breakdown, we need to continue to do what we are doing but we also need to do more as well. I will continue to make that point. The Department has funded substantial research into TB in Ireland since the 1990s and we will continue to do so. The research provides us with the evidence base that underpins our policies, and enables us to identify areas where our policies do not sufficiently address the disease risks.

We now have a good idea of what needs to be done in broad terms to lower the levels of bovine TB further and to achieve eradication in the shortest time. We need to further reduce cattle-to-cattle transmission of the disease. We also need to maintain effective controls on badger-to-cattle transmission of disease. We must do more to eliminate infection from chronically affected herds. We must also do more to protect the almost 97% of herds which do not have TB.

It is clear that the Department cannot achieve that alone. International experience has shown that without the support of stakeholders, we will not achieve what we would like to achieve, and certainly not by 2030. It is not always a simple matter to achieve agreement and buy-in from various stakeholder groups on such matters, as TB eradication will involve difficult choices. Nevertheless, continuing with our current course, while sufficient to keep TB at current levels, it will not be enough to reduce disease levels further and we will need to do more.

As part of our efforts to engage with stakeholders, apart from the meetings of the forum, the farm bodies, Meat Industry Ireland, Dairy Industry Ireland, and others, my colleagues and I have spoken at seven public meetings in recent months, attended by approximately 1,000 farmers, most of whom were recently affected by TB in their herds. We have also spoken to the various farming organisations at national and local level and at knowledge transfer events and we are happy to continue to do so.

We will shortly launch an improved communications campaign involving leaflets, videos on YouTube, and frequently asked questions, FAQs, on the website, to address some of the common concerns farmers have about the TB eradication scheme, the TB tests, and what farmers can do to reduce the risk of TB to their cattle through their own choices. Regarding communications, what we found is that we even though we have been involved in TB eradication for a long time, and even though farmers have a test every year, it is surprising how little is known about the details of what is involved in blood testing and what happens when the reactors go to the factory. Farmers often did not have proper information about what was involved in the tests and why their reactors did not have lesions in the factory and what that meant. We have put a lot of work into trying to give better information to farmers about what is involved in the programme. Even when it came to PVPs who were involved in TB testing, in some cases we found they did not have as much information about the nitty-gritty of what the blood tests involved so we put focus on that in recent times as well.

It is important to communicate to farmers that there are factors which can increase or decrease the risk of TB, and their actions can affect risk. They are not entirely powerless. We need to do some work to better educate them to empower them when making decisions on their farm about what they can do to decrease their risk. For instance, herds that have had a TB breakdown are at increased risk of a further breakdown for up to ten years. A graph in the presentation I submitted to the committee highlights that. Once one has had TB in a herd then the risk does not disappear once the herd goes clear. That is important when it comes to decision-making about buying and selling cattle. There are actions that farmers in that situation can do to reduce risk and we want to support them by giving them the information and letting them make the choices that protect their cattle and thereby protect themselves and their families from the stress of a TB outbreak. Working together with stakeholders, we are confident we can eradicate TB by 2030. To do so will require decisions that may be difficult for some in the short term but they will yield significant long-term benefits for all.

I thank the members for their attention. I will be happy to try to answer any questions they may wish to pose.

I thank Mr. Sheahan for his informed presentation. Before I invite members to contribute, I have a couple of questions. I note that Mr. Sheahan never mentioned deer in his presentation. It is every farmer's worst nightmare to be told he or she has a reactor or reactors on his or her farm, but some people would argue that in certain areas deer are a major contributory factor to TB, although Mr. Sheahan never mentioned them. What work is being done in that regard? Have the areas that are highlighted as being prone to TB been the same for a number of years or have the black-spot areas been eradicated to some degree?

I thank Mr. Sheahan for his presentation. Like the Chairman, I am disappointed that there has been a presentation on TB but that there was no mention of deer and the problems they cause. It seems to be a common theme in the Department that there is no recognition of the fact that deer can be infected with TB. I was recently told that there where post-mortems are carried out on deer, up to 18% are shown to be infected with TB. Some farmers in west Wicklow have stopped keeping cattle altogether because they are failing to eradicate TB, the root cause of which is deer. Experts say the deer are infected by badgers and, therefore, they are not the source of the infection. Nonetheless, deer often carry TB. The deer population is increasing dramatically in line with the increase in forestry. In my county, there have been some serious breakdowns, a significant number of which were at the edge of forests. Telling farmers that deer do not play an important part in the spread of TB will not wash. Our reluctance to tackle the deer population or to cull some animals will prevent us getting to grips with the problem of TB.

Mr. Sheahan stated, "Working together with stakeholders, we are confident we can eradicate TB by 2030. To do so will require decisions that may be difficult for some in the short term". Farmers are the only people in the country who have paid a significant cost as a result of TB. Whatever decisions are taken by the Department, such as those relating to the on-farm evaluation system, the loss of animals or the severe hardship incurred at farm level, it is, unfortunately, farmers who will ultimately pay in financial terms.

I have serious concerns about how there seems to be a focus by the Department to say that herds that have had TB are a risk for a number of years afterwards. That puts a black mark on herds that have been affected by TB, even though they may have had a couple of clear tests. If I understand matters correctly, the Department is saying that a herd will have a stigma attached to it for up to ten years if it has had TB. I have heard that farms' TB history will be shown on boards in marts. That will mean that cattle or weanlings sold from those herds will have a reduced attractiveness for buyers and will command a lower price. This shows that there is no confidence in the TB test because surely if a herd has passed two tests, it is clear of TB. The Department is saying, however, that for up to ten years animals from that herd will have a greater risk. As a farmer, I cannot get my head around or accept that. It will incur significant costs for and impose a great deal of hardship on farmers. I cannot see the benefit of that.

The culling of badgers has worked very well where it has been done. This has reduced the level of TB. If there is a successful vaccination for badgers, why do we need a cull? Could we not get to a point where there would be a blanket vaccination of badgers? Culling healthy badgers is a hindrance rather than a help. If we had a vaccination process so that badgers were not transmitting the disease, we would take a large step forward. Why can a vaccination not be more widely used?

Where there is a breakdown, the Department comes in and insists on performing the blood tests. I agree with that principle. Are there figures available in respect of the number of false positives relating to blood tests as compared with those involving skin tests? I agree that blood tests will identify reactor animals quicker than skin tests but what are the figures for false positives? Looking at the map, the Six Counties are blank. What level of tuberculosis is there in Northern Ireland? What regulations are there for tuberculosis there? Are they compatible with ours? I was president of a farming organisation before I became a Deputy. Brucellosis had virtually been eradicated but then there was a reinfection involving animals from south Armagh and we were back to square one. Is there a compatible level of testing in Northern Ireland? If we do everything to an A1 standard here and there is not the same level in Northern Ireland, there will be reinfections.

I am disappointed that there is not a focus on deer and their role in transmitting the disease. I accept that they are not the primary source of infection but, in my view and from my experience, they play a serious role in transmitting disease. They travel a lot of the countryside and are a serious problem. A farmer could come outside and see 40 or 50 deer eating silage out of his pit or feeding on his grass. They drink out of the same water troughs. We lifted water troughs in the past and it stopped badgers from getting access to water but, unfortunately, that will not help with deer, which will have access to the same water sources as herds of cattle

. Those are the questions I would like to be answered. These decisions will be difficult in the short term if there are financial repercussions for farmers.

I thank Mr. Sheahan for his presentation. Having his or her herd locked up is a severe and traumatic blow to a farmer. It impacts on the entire family and represents a severe blow to the income-generating capacity of the farm and the farmer involved. The devastation does not end inside the farm gate. It spreads to neighbouring farmers because they are then caught up in something not of their own making and become subject to tests by virtue of their location rather than disease history. When it happened near us, it created a sense of fear and trepidation because farmers nearby could be next. Farmers never received replacement costs for lost animals or herds. The dilemma is exacerbated by the fact that replacement costs will be significant and are a double-whammy for the farmer involved, who gets less for what was taken away and has bigger costs.

A major policy objective is to eradicate TB by 2030. Senator Paul Daly and I come from a part of the country where this is a desirable objective for most people. In our area, every so often we used to hear the mantra to the effect that various Government Ministers were going to drain the Shannon. We can throw this in with the draining of the Shannon. We have committed to draining the Shannon every year and many Deputies and Ministers won or lost their seats on that basis.

I am wondering if this is a bit like that. When I was a young person back in 1974, with black hair, I recall this being a desirable objective at that time. That is 44 years ago. I hope it is achieved for everybody's sake, even from a human health perspective. I am glad that the great work done by former Minister, Noel Browne, against the odds and against the tide as he said himself has been acknowledged by the Department. He was one of the greatest politicians who ever stood in this place.

How much has the State invested to date in the TB eradication scheme? We are down to 16,000 to 18,000 animals, and less than 3.5% of herds are affected. That means that almost 97% are clear. This is important for the export of nine out of every ten animals, which is why all the identification schemes and everything else are in place. The number of herds has declined rapidly since the mid-1950s. The number of animals has gone the other way. We have a smaller number of herds with a larger number of animals. The impact is in reverse.

The Department used a BCG vaccine in badgers in Ireland which were the major source of the disease. Why is the NPWS imposing a 30% limit on the usage of this? Is there any scientific or empirical basis for that being imposed or is it just a figure that the service uses?

We all know about the epidermal or skin test, the annual rounds and the great joy of getting the word that the test is clear once the veterinary practitioner has carried out the review. How extensively has the interferon gamma blood test been used, if it is the case that it is more succinct and precise and facilitates the earlier detection of TB?

Like my colleagues, I intended to raise the impact of deer, and whether they facilitate the spread of TB as a potential host or, at minimum, a carrier or transmitter of the disease. Has the Department carried out any research in that context?

How sensitive is the intradermal tuberculosis test in identifying affected animals and what percentage of animals could be identified by means of a positive test when they are in uninfected? Indeed, the reverse might also be the case, where animals may be identified as being negative but are, in fact, infected.

How many chronically infected herds are there in the country and has there been any impact on these numbers over the past five to ten years?

I studied zoonotic disease and microbacteria years ago and I have probably forgotten it all by now. Very often, however, it can be the experience of a farmer who has a herd infected by TB and who has worked with the Department to take significant preventative steps such as a closed herd policy, a detailed disinfectant policy, increased hygiene with all of the steps that one would normally take, and yet, as Mr. Sheahan fairly said, within three, four or five years, they are infected again. Does this window extend to a decade or more? One can never drop one's guard, which I appreciate. That will be part of the Department's lectures, videos, etc. Is a peak likely again?

This is where it starts on the logarithmic table. It is back to the usual bacterial growth or culture and then it drops off. Is the sensitive period three years, four years or five years where one has to be so careful that one can let hardly anybody in?

Mr. Michael Sheahan

The Deputy approximately ten questions. If I forget any, I ask to be reminded of them. I will leave the question about deer until last and ask my colleague, Mr. Eoin Ryan, to answer it. The Chairman asked about whether black spot areas remained the same. They change from time to time. To provide a recent example, we had a sudden large outbreak in part of south Kerry, which had not experienced particular problems for many years. That became a black spot area and we put a particular programme in place to deal with it. That was a new area that had not been a problem previously. Currently, Monaghan is the most significant large-scale problem area. That developed relatively quickly after a four or five-year period in which it was not particularly above the national average. Sometimes, disease flares up in an area and we put a programme in place to quash it. Over time, the number of black spot areas has reduced as we get the overall disease levels down.

Where I come from in Carlow is not far from west Wicklow and we are well aware that the latter has been a problem area for a while.

Mr. Michael Sheahan

West Wicklow has been a particular problem and we will talk about that in relation to deer. In general, black spot areas come and go and we deal with them. As disease levels drop, we are getting fewer black spots.

To follow up on that point, I am looking at the map. The only red part of the country currently is the Border area.

Mr. Michael Sheahan

It is Monaghan and parts of Cavan.

Has that been a constant problem?

Mr. Michael Sheahan

No. It is relatively recent, over the past two years or so. We have a comprehensive programme in place to deal with it and are confident the graph will go down again next year. Deputy Cahill asked why we do not move to the blanket vaccination of badgers. That is our plan. In recent years, we have been culling approximately 6,000 badgers and vaccinating approximately 1,000 every year. We will roll out vaccination gradually over the next three or four years so that at the end of that period, we will vaccinate 6,000 badgers and cull 1,000. Over time, we plan to move away from culling, by and large, and our plan ultimately is to vaccinate every badger in the country. However, we will still need to carry out culling in some areas in which there are particularly bad outbreaks of disease. In general, our plan is to move to blanket vaccination of badgers. Deputy Penrose asked why there was a 30% limit. To clarify, there is no limit on vaccination. We can vaccinate every badger in the country and the NPWS has no difficulty in that regard. However, the badger is a protected species under the Bern convention, which means there is a 30% limit regarding the land area in which we can cull badgers. We cannot exterminate the badger population. It is as simple as that. That is why there is a 30% limit. The Deputy compared this to draining the River Shannon and I am sure he was not being entirely serious.

It has been going on since 1954 or 1955.

Mr. Michael Sheahan

I am in the Department quite a while and I became involved in our brucellosis eradication programme in 1999. At that stage, brucellosis was at an all-time high and we got the same thing about people having heard it all before. We launched a programme that year to eradicate brucellosis and there was a lot of scepticism at the time that it could not or would not be done. We heard it was all a racket, a vets' gravy train and all that sort of nonsense. However, a key point was, to be fair, that it was a concerted effort and it had the support of stakeholders. All the farm bodies were fully on board, as were ICOS and the meat industry. Everyone accepted it was the right thing to do and everyone worked together. To everyone's surprise, we eradicated brucellosis within seven years. Our last case of brucellosis was in 2006. It is a prime example of what can be done when everyone pulls together. While I am sure people have said previously that it would be great to eradicate TB, this is the first time we are making an attempt to do that.

This is the first occasion on which we have a plan and Cabinet backing. The Department accepts that it will not eradicate TB on its own. We simply cannot do so. We need the support of stakeholders. A number of difficult decisions will have to be made if we are to achieve eradication by 2030. Everyone here is confident it can be done with the support of stakeholders.

A number of people asked how widely the gamma interferon blood test is being used. We are now using the gamma interferon blood test in all bad breakdowns, that is, all breakdowns involving five or more reactors. It is standard practice. We have learned much over the years about how best to use the gamma interferon test. We are now using it in respect of all breakdowns. Deputy Penrose also inquired as to how many false positives there are with the blood test. Approximately 3% give rise to false positives. The test's level of sensitivity is 97% so there will be three false positives for every 100 animals tested. That is why-----

What is the level for the skin test?

Mr. Michael Sheahan

I will come to that in a moment. I will just finish my point on the blood test. The reason we do not use the blood test widely on the 6 million cattle in the national herd is because the false positive rate is too high to use it as a screening test. We are now using it in all significant breakdowns. The sensitivity is 97%. The false positive rate is 3%. With the skin test the false positive rate is tiny. About one in 5,000 reactors is a false positive with the skin test. It is very specific. There are very few false positives. If 5,000 are tested and there are 5,000 reactors, only one will be a false positive. This is an important point. The ability of the skin test to pick out infected animals is only 80%. If there are 100 animals with TB in a pen, the skin test will pick up 80. That is pretty good as tests go. There is no test for any disease that will pick out 100% in humans or animals so 80% is relatively good.

What about the blood test?

Mr. Michael Sheahan

It is a little bit more than that and it will pick them out at an earlier stage, which is important. The blood test will identify a positive before the skin test. It allows us to get in earlier and clear out herds more quickly.

A certain percentage will get through both nets.

Mr. Michael Sheahan

Yes. Neither test is perfect. That is why if a herd has had two clear tests it does not mean the problem is solved. The tests are not good enough. There is nobody out there developing a test in the short term. In the next five or ten years it is not likely that a better test will come along. One reads about breakthroughs from time to time and new tests under development. We would love if there was but the reality is the tests we have are pretty good as disease tests go but if there are two clear tests in a herd with a problem, unfortunately, a certain percentage of infected animals will be left behind. We are finding that approximately 30% of herds that have had a breakdown will go down again at some stage in the future. It is better than before. The blood test is helping. It is getting out more animals but a percentage of infected animals is being left behind and not being picked up. That is why there is a risk for up to ten years associated with herds that have had a significant TB breakdown.

Deputy Penrose asked about chronic herds. It depends on one's definition in that regard. We have the numbers of herds that have had six or more breakdowns. Some herds have one breakdown and that is it, they are cleared and it does not happen again but there are some chronic herds. Between 500 and 1,000 herds have a significant number of repeat breakdowns. That is an area on which we will continue to focus.

A question was asked about the level of TB in Northern Ireland. I do not know if we have an exact figure. Our herd incidence rate is approximately 3.5%. In the North it is approximately 9%. It has a much more serious problem than we have. The North does not have a badger culling programme.

Obviously, the authorities in Northern Ireland should be concerned about it. Are they as concerned about it as the we are down here?

Mr. Michael Sheehan

Absolutely. Yesterday, my colleagues met officials from the North to discuss TB. To some extent, they are currently a bit hamstrung because the assembly is not in place. They got an independent body to produce a report on what they should be doing, but they have been a bit hamstrung in getting on and doing it because of the situation up there. However, they are clearly very concerned.

I presume Brexit presents another challenge in that regard.

Mr. Michael Sheehan

Depending on what happens, it will probably complicate matters further.

I might ask Mr. Ryan to talk about the issue relating to deer because it is one that arises frequently. There is a-----

Before we move on to that, Deputy Cahill referred to placing details relating to herd histories on mart boards.

Mr. Michael Sheehan

A number of options are being discussed by the TB forum. Earlier, we spoke about risk. I will provide an example. A dairy farmer with 200 animals will have invested a considerable amount in his herd and facilities. If he needs to buy 20 cattle, the last thing he wants to do is to buy a TB problem. However, he is buying a pig in a poke at the moment. He has no way of knowing if he should buy 20 cattle from Joe Blogs, Paddy Smith or whoever. However, we have the information and know with a good degree of accuracy what his risk would be by buying from one herd as distinct from another. The question is as follows. Should we make that information available to a person with a dairy herd of 200 or even a herd of 50 suckler cows? Do they have a right to know which herd represents the lowest risk? Should we warn them that if they buy from herd A the risk of buying in a problem is X and if they buy from herd B the risk is Y. These are some of the difficult decisions. Obviously, if-----

That could devalue an individual's stock.

Mr. Michael Sheehan

It could. There are two sides to the coin. Someone who has one of the 97% of herds that are clear of TB and who has made a significant investment in that herd obviously has a vested interest in knowing the differing risks of buying animals from one herd as distinct from another. On the other hand, a person who is selling and has had no TB in the herd for ten years would obviously not have a problem with making that fact known on a mart board or elsewhere. However, someone who has had 16 breakdowns in the past seven years will not want that information to be made available to somebody looking to buy cattle because nobody in their right mind would want to buy animals from that person.

That might be extreme.

Mr. Michael Sheehan

That would be extreme, but there is a range of risks there.

As matters stand, no one can sell any livestock in the mart without having a clear test.

Mr. Michael Sheehan

That is correct.

That is how it is. The committee hears regularly about the challenges in the suckler area. The margins are tight. While I take Mr. Sheehan's point, it seems unfair that by potentially influencing the price of that individual's stock being sold at this time of year or a bit earlier, it could have a knock-on effect on the viability of that herd and the viability of the farm family.

Mr. Michael Sheehan


There is no better example to use than that put forward by the Chairman. I breed suckler cows but I supply purebred bulls. I have not had TB in my herd in the past ten years. I farm very close to an esker, a big wildlife habitat with many badgers around so the risk is always there. By publishing that information, if I had a reactor next year which would be the first in ten years, I might as well fold up the tent for the next ten years. That is the reality and I am only one of many examples. I could close the gate for the next ten years if the fact that I had a reactor is published while at the same time stating that there can be a ten-year dormant history in a herd. It would be ten years before I would be fully clear again in the eyes of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. I would be out of business.

I am one of many. There are two sides to every coin.

Mr. Michael Sheahan

There are.

We want to eradicate the disease and there is no point helping the people Mr. Sheahan has quoted, who will be helping from the purchasing side but at the expense of putting those on the other side out of business. How do we arrive at a happy medium on that one?

Mr. Michael Sheahan

This is not a proposal from the Department. This is one of many issues we are discussing at the forum. We are giving people the science. The science from UCD states that if we wanted to eradicate TB in the quickest time possible, we would bring in a thing called risk-based trading, which is essentially what is done in New Zealand and what is beginning to be done in the UK, whereby one gives people the information in regard to the risk of the animals they are buying. I accept it is very tricky. There are two sides to the coin. Somebody with a dairy herd that is clear will want that information but somebody who is selling cattle that have had an issue-----

Most likely, it will not affect the dairy farmer as much because he will mostly be producing his own replacements and he will have a continuous cashflow, as opposed to the suckler farmer, who will be selling weanlings every autumn. Obviously, the suckler herd has a tighter margin.

Mr. Michael Sheahan

Increasingly, dairy farmers have been buying replacement heifers and stock bulls in recent years. As already stated, this is not a Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine proposal but something that has been discussed at the TB forum. It is one of many tricky decisions the stakeholders will have to agree on. It is a difficult one and it is for the forum to reach consensus on it, if it can. There may be some halfway house on the issues but it is a tricky one, with two sides to the story.

I will ask Mr. Ryan to comment on the issue relating to deer.

Mr. Eoin Ryan

As Mr. Sheahan stated, there is a lot of stakeholder engagement taking place. We have been involved in many public meetings recently and I have gone around the country with my colleagues. There have been many public meetings and meetings with farm organisations. The deer issue comes up repeatedly and I know the strength of feeling on it. I will say now what I say repeatedly at these public meetings, at the bilaterals with the farm organisations and when I been interviewed by farm media on these issues, namely, there is no evidence deer play a significant role in transmitting TB to cattle in most of the country outside Wicklow.

I will deal with Wicklow first. Most land in Wicklow is not farmed, farmers are not the majority landowners and there is a huge deer population. Deputy Cahill is right that a Department-funded research project was done a few years ago and found that 16% of deer shot as part of the pilot project in Wicklow had TB and that the same strains of TB were circulating in cattle, badgers and deer in this part of Wicklow. The Department is facilitating farmers to take action in Wicklow in this regard. In fact, I am attending a meeting tomorrow of the Wicklow deer management committee which will be attended by farm organisations, the National Parks and Wildlife Service, Coillte, the Department and local hunters. This is facilitating farmers and hunters who want to shoot deer and reduce deer numbers. This has been working quite well and a tender was signed off some months ago to renew it and extend it across Wicklow.

Outside Wicklow, there just is not the evidence that deer are playing a role in transmitting to cattle at significant levels. I am not saying it does not happen at all but we have to try to base our policies on the evidence and the risks. For example, in the past 18 months we have tested in our regional veterinary laboratories 74 wild deer from across the country but, outside Wicklow. Only three of those 74 animals had TB. When we were at the public meeting in Killarney, I was asked about this and was told there was concern that deer in Kerry were driving TB levels. It was reassuring to be able to provide the information to farmers that of 39 wild deer tested in Kerry in the past year and a half, only one had TB. In the meeting in Nenagh some weeks ago, people from Clare were quite concerned but we tested 16 deer from Clare recently and none had TB. It is certainly the case that deer can get infected with TB and it is conceivable that deer can pass it to cattle. The question is not whether it ever happens; it is whether this is a significant route of infection.

Having said that, we are happy to look at this. Our policy is the same as it always has been but we are trying to do better at communicating it. Where there are local concerns among farmers that deer may be a factor, as in the scenario the Deputy outlined, we are happy to test deer if farmers want to co-ordinate locally, get the deer shot and submit them to a regional veterinary laboratory. We will test them for free and pass that information on. We are also happy to facilitate local meetings between farmers, landowners and hunters to try to address this. That is what we do, and that is how many of the deer that are shot come in. This policy is on our website. I have spoken about it several times, and the farm organisations are aware of it, but perhaps we need to do better at getting that out there. I completely agree with the point Deputy Cahill made: there is a perception that the Department is saying it does not want to talk about deer. We are actually happy to talk about deer but we are even happier to talk about things for which there is evidence and into which we should put our efforts. Therefore, if evidence comes to light that there is some part of the country where deer are playing a significant role in spreading TB to cattle, we will be happy to support measures to address that. Farmers can take steps to reduce the numbers of deer. It is difficult for a single farmer to do so, of course. They can shoot them and, if it is out of season, they can apply to the National Parks and Wildlife Service for a section 42 licence, but it is more effective if they co-ordinate locally across an area. This is the approach that has been taken in Wicklow involving the farm organisations and we are happy for that approach to be taken elsewhere. The issue just has not arisen, so again, it is not that we are saying deer never, ever pass TB to cattle, but it is the case that outside Wicklow there is no evidence deer play a significant role. Even within Wicklow, it is not clear which species is transmitting to which. As I said, though, I will attend a meeting tomorrow in Wicklow with the local management partnership there. I hope that provides some information on deer.

It provides information, but I am not happy with Mr. Ryan's answer, with all due respect to him. I can list seven or eight instances in my county where there have been outbreaks of TB in the past year and a half to two years. The vast majority of them are bound in forestry, and the deer are grazing the same land and drinking the same water as the cattle. I just cannot understand the Department's contention that deer are not playing a part in transmitting the infection. Mr. Ryan said that in Wicklow 16% of the deer were found to have TB and he quoted figures from other places. To expect the farmers to be able to get a significant cull of deer is expecting too much. The deer population is expanding rapidly. There is no doubt in my mind that the deer have TB. I think the percentage is the only thing in question. We are talking about putting serious restrictions on farmers. Mr. Ryan spoke about brucellosis. Farmers went through great expense to eradicate brucellosis, between post-movement tests and pre-movement tests and all the rest. I know wildlife can spread brucellosis, but if one contains the infection in the dairy herd or the suckler herd, in the female population, brucellosis can be controlled. The same does not hold for TB at all. If the deer stayed in their own habitats, it would be fine, but the deer population is expanding so rapidly that they are not staying in their own habitats and are now using the same habitats as the farm animals. In Rossmore, County Tipperary, there were two bad outbreaks in which two herds were completely wiped out. In Killoscully ten or 12 herds are locked up. The farmers and I are convinced that deer are at the root of their problems. A lot more research into the deer question will have to be carried out and there will have to be a lot more control of the population to make farmers confident in their attempts to reduce further the number of reactors.

Mr. Eoin Ryan

I take on board what the Deputy says, but in Tipperary, for instance, we recently tested three deer, none of which had TB. I am familiar with the outbreak in Killoscully. If people there want to shoot some deer and get them submitted to us, we will test them for free and then we can actually have some data. I said this the other night in Nenagh. We have said this at multiple public meetings. If farmers are concerned, we are happy to test those deer. That can be arranged, and there is no problem with that.

However, we cannot operate without the basis of evidence. It is just the case that, when we tested deer outside Wicklow, we found that three out of 74 had TB. That deer may share the same habitat as cattle does not mean they are driving infection into them. Any mammal in the countryside can get TB. It is entirely possible that deer may be a spillover host, in that they picked up infection from cattle, badgers or whatever. That does not necessarily mean that they will pass it back on.

Regarding forestry, this matter was raised at our TB forum. It was suggested by the farming organisations that Coillte should be invited as the largest landowner in the country. It was invited and has made a positive contribution.

The Deputy's point about the perceived association between forestry clearfelling and TB outbreaks was also put to us. We are going to do as the Deputy says and carry out some research on the matter. Instead of saying it could be this or that, we will look to see whether there is a correlation between proximity to forestry and risk of TB. Our feeling with much of this is that the answer will be found by examining the evidence and data and basing policy on same. It is another example of how our increased engagement and discussion with stakeholders has borne fruit - there was a concern and we are now moving to address it.

Is research being done into the correlation between TB and forestry?

Mr. Eoin Ryan

The spatial correlation.

From experience, wherever there is a forest, there is inevitably a TB breakdown after a short time. A forest provides cover for badgers and deer. Maybe my experience is wrong.

Mr. Eoin Ryan

That is the thing - I cannot say whether the Deputy is right or wrong. From knowing those involved or living in the area, people might be familiar with specific incidents of breakdown close to forestry, but there are many farms close to forestry and perhaps the ones that are not affected by TB do not spring to mind. The answer is to examine the issue, which is what we are doing. We want to base what we are doing on the results of the analysis. That is the direction we are going.

There was a final question.

I am sorry to butt in, but I want to finish asking about TB. Is Mr. Ryan suggesting that there is evidence that deer will not transmit TB back to cattle?

Mr. Eoin Ryan

I am not. I said several times-----

Is there evidence that they will? I am not trying to be awkward.

Mr. Eoin Ryan

To be clear, it is entirely possible for any mammal to get infected with TB and to infect another mammal. The question is not whether any deer in the country ever got TB and passed it to a bovine. It is whether it happens in such a significant way that it is a factor for people to be concerned about. It is impossible to say that it has never happened that a deer has not infected a bovine. There is certainly evidence in Wicklow that the same strains are affecting cattle, badgers and deer. A question arises as to whether all three are infecting one another. Outside Wicklow, we have the data that I have explained. We have only found three positives out of the 74 wild deer that were shot and submitted to us. If farmers in a local area like Killoscully or so on are concerned, we are happy to test the deer in question.

It is entirely possible that there may be a role being played. I am certainly not disputing that, but we want to base our control policies on the risks. Mr. Sheahan mentioned the various risks and Deputy Cahill has himself addressed the point that it is a difficult message to hear that a herd that has had a TB breakdown is at higher risk for several years afterwards. Just because that message is difficult, though, does not mean it is wrong to address it and say what the research bears out. It is awkward and difficult, but it is still the case.

It is not all bad news. The risk of herds breaking down has reduced from previous years. In 1998, a herd had a 46% chance of going down within three years. From 2012, it only had a 30% chance of going down in the next three years. According to our preliminary data from 2015, that has slightly decreased again, although our analysis has not finished. The risk can decrease, but we have to be driven by the findings. I do not dispute at all that deer can infect cattle, but I do dispute that there is evidence that it plays a significant role outside Wicklow. I am happy to look at the evidence. As we say repeatedly, if farmers have concerns, we are happy to test those deer for free and will support local meetings on the subject. That would not be a problem.

Rather than cover old ground, I would like to come in on the issue of the history being published. First, I have a couple of questions on the biological make-up of the animal and why, when there is TB in a herd, it is only one or two animals that are affected, following which a herd could be clear for five or six years only to be affected again. What is the biological make-up of the animal such that if one animal is infected the entire herd does not become infected? If a badger or deer infects an animal and it does not cross-infect the herd, the farmer can have two or three clear test results once that animal has been removed but as the badger or deer would still be around, that farmer or a neighbouring farmer could have another reactor four or five years later. Why, when one animal is infected, does the rest of the herd not become infected? Can the witnesses explain the reason for the sporadic infection and has the Department undertaken an analysis of the prevalence of infection in indigenous herds versus imported herds? In other words, cattle imports that have been fattened and cattle bred here, perhaps by a dairy farmer breeding replacement heifers? Do the witnesses have data on the countries in which TB remains an issue and to which we live export? Have there ever been red flags raised regarding the identification of TB in a country where it was not an issue prior to it receiving exports from Ireland? Are there countries to which we export where TB has never been an issue? If there is, it would eliminate the badger and the deer. If there is not, it might eliminate a lot of what has been said about the herd and the ten-year possibility of an outbreak in Irish animals, from animal to animal.

I apologise for leaving earlier but I had to attend a vote in the Seanad. I welcome the departmental veterinary officials. I could declare a vested interest, but I will not. One of the key issues for the farming community, which I discussed approximately 12 months ago with Mr. Sheahan, is that the forum will use the ten-year history as a tool to get information out. The general farming community is concerned about how this would impact them financially. Will there be a financial package in place if a farmer was to have his or her herd devalued for a ten-year period? Whether a farmer is selling weanlings or calf heifers, if that information is out there he or she would be slow to engage. This needs to be teased out. Has the forum identified the budget required to financially support those in the agricultural community whose herds are as good as devalued for ten years because their information is out there? This is one of the key issues for the community.

A previous colleague spoke about exports. There was an issue last year with regard to the licensing and export of calves that came from herds that were restricted for a set timeframe. Have all those issues been cleared up and, if not, what is the situation in respect of exports as we approach the February to May export period, particularly with regard to dairy bull calves? In my part of the world, which exports an awful lot of calves, this is a big issue. There were issues last year in the marts in respect of those calves, and I have spoken to Mr. Sheahan about it previously. Where are we at in regard to that issue?

On the two blood tests, much as this has been welcomed, there is confusion regarding the sensitivity and taking of the results.

Is there a protocol set across the entire Department? Is it up to every individual veterinary inspector in Clonakilty or wherever to make up his or her mind when that goes into the process? What is the protocol, if one exists?

As for the time allocated to move reactor animals from farms, is there a strict protocol in place for the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine to have an animal moved within so many days? In some situations a month has elapsed before the retesting process was restarted. If one has spring calves then one must get bull calves moved and being obliged to wait a month before animals can be moved is not good. The lack of capacity in factories also is a huge issue. Will a protocol be put in place that will put pressure on the Department to move the animal within a certain number of days? Realistically, keeping a reactor animal on a farm for 30 days is against all of the protocols but that has happened before. I seek the views of the witnesses on the matter.

Mr. Eoin Ryan mentioned the felling of forestry. The information I always have been given by veterinary practitioners regarding my part of the world is that when a forest is felled, the level of TB in the area will dramatically increase. Does that information differ from the research carried out by the Department? Has genuine research been conducted?

I want to discuss information meetings. When a reactor is identified, the Department will call the owner of the animal to discuss issues. How many times does the Department call outside of that circle? Must the Department have a TB breakdown before one gets information? What information circle has the Department put in place? Will the Department put in place an information circle to inform farmers about what they need to do to limit these issues?

I have farmed for 22 years. I have only ever seen a Department official when I have had a TB breakdown, and I have broken down several times. What is the Department's long-term focus? Will it be part of the discussion groups? Will it be part of the single farm payments? Are staff members available? Is the Department able to put the information in the public domain? How can we convey the information?

I apologise for my absence but I had to attend a vote in the Seanad. I hope I do not repeat questions that have already been asked.

On a lighter note, Mr. Sheahan said he hoped that TB would be eradicated by 2030. That comments strikes me as a positive one. I am a member of the climate action committee, as are a number of my colleagues, and we would love to be able to say the same thing about the climate change targets.

There is a map of Ireland on the last page of the statement, called figure 3, which shows that County Monaghan and the surrounding areas are a hotspot or red spot for the incidence of TB. It was stated that the issue had worsened in the past few years, thus causing the area to be coloured red on the map. Has the cause been identified? How is the infection being spread? Is the infection passed on by badgers, cattle or whatever?

Cattle rustling is an issue that receives media attention from time to time. Has the Department ever quantified what impact cattle rustling has had on the spread of disease in cattle? Have cases been discovered whereby cattle rustling has resulted in the spread of disease?

On the issue of regimes in other countries, we receive beef from Argentina under a trade agreement and there is a push for more such trade. What are the regimes like in these countries? Let us bear in mind how much we have invested in the eradication of TB and the Department's ambition to completely eradicate it. Has the additional cost of disease control, particularly for TB, been quantified when it comes to beef production?

Aside from comparing jurisdictions, I understand TB is transmitted by airborne particles, animal to animal or human to human.

For how long after a human being has been in contact with an infected herd or animal can the infection survive? I ask in the context of people travelling to farms outside this jurisdiction.

Deputy Penrose made reference to the statement at the end of the presentation that we can eradicate TB by 2030 but to do so will require some decisions that may be difficult for some in the short term. What are those difficult decisions, for whom will they be difficult and at what cost? The vaccination of so many badgers sounds like a very big undertaking. What is the badger population in the country and how much will the vaccination programme cost? What is involved? Is it a question of physically catching all of the badgers? If that is the case, it sounds like an absolutely massive undertaking.

Senator Lombard wishes to ask a brief question before I hand over to Mr. Sheahan.

I forgot to ask if the Department has noted an increase in the number of cases in some coastal districts. The map supplied is very broad. I am referring to areas like Courtmacsherry and Barryroe, which are within three miles of the sea and which seem to have a very high incidence of TB. Is it avian-based rather than being related to the badger population?

Mr. Michael Sheahan

I will answer some of the questions myself but will pass one or two of them on to my colleague, Mr. Breslin and others to my colleagues Ms Greene and Mr. Ryan. If I miss any questions, I ask the Chairman to draw my attention to it. One of the questions asked was about live exports and the countries to which we send live animals. This is always of concern to us. Members will be aware that we export approximately 200,000 live cattle every year, of which approximately 100,000 are calves, most of which go to Spain and the Netherlands. Not too long ago the Netherlands had a significant outbreak of TB in calves they had imported from the UK. As a result, they imposed an effective ban on the importation of calves from the UK. While we always are fearful that TB would be discovered in calves we have exported to Holland, thankfully that has not happened in recent years and there are several reasons for that. Obviously, TB in calves is a rare occurrence. The calves that we export to the Netherlands, and to Spain to a lesser extent, are for the veal trade so the animals are slaughtered at a very young age. Typically, we have not had issues with TB in any of our calf exports in recent years. Similarly, the bulk of the rest of our live exports to Turkey, our weanling exports to Italy and Spain and so on, are animals for immediate slaughter or for going into feedlots and for slaughter within a couple months. Simply from an age point of view, they are not the type of animals that develop TB. They are slaughtered within a few months of arriving in Italy and while I am not criticising the Italian system, they do not have the same post mortem regime in place as we do. Effectively, because they do not really have a significant TB problem, they do not have vets on the line slicing glands to look for TB like we do. For better or for worse, we do not tend to get TB-related issues being notified to us from other countries, partly because they are not looking and partly because the animals are being slaughtered at a very young age, before they have had a chance to develop TB anyway.

Again, in the case of weanlings, they are being slaughtered at a relatively young age. The country to which we export older cattle, including breeding heifers and dairy stock, is the UK. As the Senator knows, if we export to somewhere like Scotland, which is free of TB, post-import testing will be carried out on Irish cattle. Over the years we have had a number of notifications from the UK regarding animals exported from Ireland, which subsequently developed TB. We follow up on all of those. With regard to the UK, TB in live exports is a bit of an issue. By and large, it has not been an issue in the other countries that make up the larger markets to which we send cattle for slaughter or for the veal trade. That covers live exports.

The Senator made the point, which I agree with, that there is still confusion out there. From our communications with both farmers and vets there is certainly still confusion about the precise value of the blood test, what it is about, when it should be done, and so on. That is something on which we are working. We have a communications strategy lined up. For example, we will produce short YouTube videos that we can send to farmers on their phones to explain these issues. An example might be a simple two-minute video about a farmer who had three reactors among his animals, none of whom had lesions when they went to the factory, wondering whether that means they do not have TB. Of course it does not mean that, but we want to explain what the blood test is about. We have plans for a series of short, two-minute videos to explain ten common issues that cause confusion among farmers and vets in respect of TB. I agree that we have a job of work to do. We are working on that and on improving our communications in respect of all aspects of the TB programme, because there is a bit of confusion out there about certain aspects of it.

Going back to the point about putting notices on the boards in marts, we have probably dealt with that issue. That is one of the issues being discussed at the TB forum. There are two sides to the coin. There are pros and cons. Making the information available is good for somebody who wants to buy and keep his or her risk low, but it is not good from the point of view of somebody who has had a problem in his or her herd. Senator Mulherin asked what the hard decisions were. That is one of the key difficult decisions the forum is grappling with.

From a science point of view, if we had risk-based trading, meaning that information on the risk status of the herd from which they were buying was available to a person buying cattle, it would lead us to eradication quickly. That is the policy which is now being pursued in many other countries that still have TB problems. In New Zealand, for example, risk-based trading is now the norm. Every herd is categorised. There is a simple categorisation system. Everybody knows his or her category and nobody buys cattle without knowing the risk category of the herd from which they are buying. If one is in the highest risk category, one is only allowed to sell animals to others in that category. One is not allowed to sell animals to somebody who is in a low-risk category.

In that scenario, is a compensation package in place?

Mr. Michael Sheahan

There is none in New Zealand.

Does New Zealand have the same problem with badgers or contamination?

Mr. Michael Sheahan

There is no badger problem but a possum problem. There is a wildlife problem similar to ours but it involves a different species.

Are the possums vaccinated?

Mr. Michael Sheahan

Possums are not a protected species so they can be shot without having to worry about the Bern convention. New Zealand has similar issues to ours. Senator Mulherin asked whether vaccinating badgers is physically a big job. Yes, we have to physically catch them and inject them. It is a big job but we have a lot of information in respect of badgers. At this stage we know where every single sett is in the country. We have a map and the X and Y co-ordinates of every sett. When it comes to culling, we have teams of departmental staff and farm relief staff in place around the country. We have a well-oiled machine in place in respect of culling badgers.

The process of vaccinating badgers is similar. They are captured, but they are vaccinated, microchipped and released rather than shot. When they have been vaccinated, the vaccine works well. Essentially, they are protected for life. It does not have to be repeated.

Senator Daly asked a good question. He asked why, when one animal in a herd gets TB, they do not all get it. I might ask my colleague, Mr. Breslin, to explain the concept of genetic resistance. In certain animals, the infection gets walled off within a certain part of the body and does not spread. It may stay latent for some years.

Mr. Philip Breslin

The bug that causes TB - mycobacterium bovis - and all the microbacteria is that they are quite unusual as bacteria. They grow slowly. It can take up to 20 days for them to replicate, whereas a bug like E. coli, with which we are familiar because of the difficulties it can cause in water, can replicate in 20 minutes. There is a certain resistance in some animals. Through the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation, sires have been identified in Ireland that confer more resistance to TB on their progeny than other sires. That information will go into the estimated breeding values, EBVs, in the new year. There is a resistance issue. The immune system is constantly in a battle with TB. Approximately half of all TB infections are conquered by the immune system for a period. They become latent. This phenomenon was especially recognised when TB was prevalent among people. In the 1950s and 1960s, 50% of people in Ireland had some evidence of TB in their lungs. In many of those cases, it was walled off and was no longer progressing. This question of latency, whereby the immune system stops TB in its tracks for a period of time, reduces the animal's chances of being infective to other animals.

The first point I would make in response to the question about the sporadic nature of some TB breakdowns is that there must be a transmission point - the animal must pick up the TB from somewhere. If many cattle are exposed to the same wildlife source - for example, if a badger contaminates some feed - the number of cattle infected could be large. By contrast, just one or two animals grazing in a field might be contaminated. The cattle in question will have various levels of infectiousness, which will affect their ability to infect other cattle. There can be significant variations in animal numbers. We get some explosive breakdowns. Thankfully, most of our breakdowns involve just one or two animals. That has increasingly been the case as our TB situation has improved over the years. Just one third of our breakdowns involve three or more animals. In such cases, there is a higher risk that TB will be spread onwards - back into badgers or back to other cattle. Transmission is the first issue when explaining why there is such variation. The behaviour of the bug in respect of the animal's immune system is the second issue. In human medicine, it is recognised that certain people are super-shedders, which means they have managed to infect way more people with TB than most people who get infected. It is thought that the same super-shedder phenomenon exists in the badger and bovine populations.

Mr. Breslin has said that sires that will breed a more resilient bloodline have been identified.

Mr. Philip Breslin


Does the Department have the opposite information on bloodlines that are more susceptible to TB?

Mr. Philip Breslin

The EBVs for many different traits go from high to low. Resistance for TB is on a scale from most resistant to least resistant. There are traits for fertility and milk yield, etc. On the suckler side, there are traits for factors like carcass confirmation. This will be another trait available for people to use. The research in this area was completed and published earlier this year. We have signed a data-sharing agreement with the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation.

The new values will be available early next year.

Mr. Michael Sheahan

I will pick up on a few of the other questions so that I do not forget them. Senator Lombard asked about coastal areas. We do not have any evidence to support the theory that there is a bigger problem in coastal areas. The map we supplied shows where there are problems and it can be seen that, in general, our coastal areas are the greenest. That is not to say that there could not be a specific issue in Courtmacsherry, County Cork. We have not found an association with coastal areas and I would say that such areas have fewer problems.

Senator Lombard also asked about whether a standardised protocol applies in the use of gamma interferon. The answer is "Yes". It would be fair to say that if one went back a couple of years, one would find that our approach was not standardised. We have 16 offices throughout the country and our approach previously was probably not as standardised as we might have liked. We addressed the matter in recent years so that now, whether one is in Donegal, Courtmacsherry or wherever, and one's herd is unfortunate enough to have a TB problem, then the approach should be identical - or as to that as is humanly possible - everywhere. There is a standardised approach in the context of when gamma interferon is used, when a contiguous programme is initiated, etc.

I will ask Ms Green to respond to the question on communications. She is spearheading our efforts to improve the Department's communications. Senator Lombard asked about the removal time for animals identified as reactors. Mr. Forde will give the facts and figures on removal times.

Ms Rosanne Greene

As has been stated, much of our communication is focused on the people who have animals that have been identified as having TB. Increasingly, we are recognising that we need to look to the 97% of people who do not have animals with TB and advise them as to how they can reduce the risk of their herds contracting the disease.

I will outline a number of things that we have committed to doing over the next couple of years. First, as Mr. Sheahan mentioned, we will produce a number of short videos on how to make farms more biosecure in order to avoid the spread of TB in herds, issues relating to wildlife, badgers or whatever, issues regarding the purchase of animals and, perhaps, animals in people's herds, and whether farmers needs to look at the older animals in their herds. In addition, increasing focus is being placed on the herds that do not have TB as well as those that do. We will also produce a number of leaflets that will complement the videos. There is very little information publicly available unless people consult our website. We hope to produce some small colourful leaflets that will explain the different types of TB tests, what they mean and what the results mean. Many of the leaflets will focus on the herds that have TB reactors and will answer questions as to why animals with outward lesions are not killed, etc. We will highlight the biosecurity issues and what people can do to protect their herds is they do not currently have animals infected with TB.

We are reviewing all of the letters that we issue to farmers. Annual letters relating to the round test issued to all farmers, not just to those who own herds that are infected with TB. Last year, we revamped the letter into a very simple "dos and don'ts" information leaflet, which we hope is a vast improvement on what went before. We are reviewing all of the letters in order to make them more farmer-friendly, convey clearer messages and, hopefully, give more advice to people on what they can do to protect their herds. I have outlined some of the things that we will do in the next couple of years.

Mr. Colm Forde

Up to last year, if one wanted to find out about the TB eradication programme, the only available information on our website was our submission to the EU for co-funding. The submission was almost 100 pages in length; it was a very dense document. The submission used technical language that would not be understood by the average person. Ms Greene's team developed a 20-page document, copies of which we can supply to the committee. The document uses very friendly, common language and provides a high-level explanation of how the programme works and what we try to do.

The issue of reactor removal times has been raised constantly by our stakeholders. Ideally, we would remove reactors from farms as soon as they are identified. The major issue as to why it takes a protracted period to remove them is to allow for independent evaluation. The latter is relatively unique to Ireland. In the UK, there is a book evaluation.

If a farmer is unfortunate enough to suffer a breakdown, he will be told over the phone the type of animal he has and its value. The reactor can then be removed. In Ireland, however, if a farmer were unfortunate enough to suffer a breakdown, the local office will call him and give him the names of the valuers who operate in the county. It takes a number of days to allow the valuer to go to the farm, look at the animals, do all the paperwork and send the farmer a valuation by post. The farmer has then three or four days to consider the valuation and make a decision. There is a level of to and fro to allow for the valuation process and the system allows for a second appeal valuation, if the farmer is unhappy with the valuation. All of that process means that the average reactor removal times can take up to 20 days. We are keen to reduce that timeframe as much as possible. I was asked whether we had any particular commitment to do that, and we do. There is a commitment for the Department to remove reactors within ten days after all documentation on the valuation process has been signed off by the farmer and the Department. We are working to reduce that time and it is now down to approximately five days. We report on that monthly and-or quarterly to the Farmers' Charter which meets in Portlaoise.

One of the key actions we have taken to reduce reactor removal times, as Mr. Michael Sheahan mentioned earlier, is the gamma interferon policy. When there are three or more reactors in the herd, there will be follow-up blood testing to try to see if there is any more infection in the herd. Prior to last year, the standard practice in the public service's efforts to drive efficiency and value for money for the taxpayer was to wait until all reactors had been identified and then collect all the reactors together - those initially identified through the skin test and then the ones identified separately through the blood test. The policy we have in place in all of our regional offices now is that as soon as the skin test reactors have been identified, we go and collect them, and if there are subsequent reactors identified by a blood test, we collect them then. The focus is on disease eradication. That has helped to bring down the reactor removal timeframe significantly. What we are doing to facilitate it is to change the haulier contracts we have to collect reactors. We are employing more hauliers and they can use small vehicles. A jeep or a pick-up truck as opposed to a lorry could collect ten or 20 reactors in a locality to justify the trip. That is one of the things we are doing to reduce reactor removal times. We have told all stakeholders that we are open to any other proposals which will help us to reduce that timeline further because the Senator is correct that from a disease perspective, we want to get the reactor off the farm as quickly as possible.

Is it 20 days?

Mr. Colm Forde

It is approximately 20 days. It could have dipped under that to 19 and a bit days. It is then 5.5 days from the period when all documentation is signed off.

One of the issues that I came across was the lack of capacity in the factories on certain occasions to take the animals. How many factories slaughter reactor animals? Is capacity an issue at times?

Mr. Colm Forde

At present we are confident we have enough capacity in the system for a culling of reactors. It is an issue that we keep our eye on consistently to ensure, as the Senator said, that capacity does not become an issue for us. At present we are satisfied that there is enough capacity and that capacity is not an issue.

How many factories slaughter reactor animals?

Mr. Colm Forde

Four or five factories slaughter reactor animals.

What are the regulations in respect of the incidence of TB in herds in Northern Ireland?

Mr. Eoin Ryan

It is a concern that our colleagues in Northern Ireland are facing a significant challenge and the farmers there have a serious problem with TB that is affecting them every day. The levels of TB in Northern Ireland are higher than those in the South at just shy of 10%, while the level in the South is 3.4%. The main difference between the programmes is that we have had a badger and wildlife control programme and we have been culling badgers and now we are back saving badgers. For social and political reasons, perhaps the culling policy was not acceptable in Northern Ireland and they were not able to go down that path. We have close relationships and we work closely with our northern colleagues. As Mr. Sheahan mentioned, yesterday we had a full day meeting with our northern colleagues, whom we meet regularly and with whom we work closely. We co-ordinate on issues such as outbreaks near the Border and we are continually working to try to improve communication on cross-Border issues. They have a programme based on the European regulations the same as ours, so it is closely aligned to our programme.

There are some small differences in how it is applied but, substantially, it is more or less similar other than the fact that they do not have a wildlife control programme. Also, they carry out gamma blood testing, but it is not compulsory to remove positives, so if one has an animal that tests positive on the gamma blood test, one does not have to remove it. Recently, a substantial review was carried out of the TB strategy in Northern Ireland. An expert stakeholder group was set up and it reviewed the programme and came up with some proposals. There is now a TB eradication partnership. Mr. Breslin and I were invited to speak about our programme. The entire strategy in Northern Ireland is being reviewed and a key element of that is to bring in badger controls, meaning wildlife removals, and they also want to carry out vaccination, where appropriate. In addition, they want to take steps to deal with the level of compensation. There is a different context in Northern Ireland and they feel the level of compensation is too high. The Northern Ireland Audit Office carried out at review recently along the same lines and it found that it was not good value for money in terms of state expenditure.

Their levels of TB have crept upwards but they have stabilised in the past year or so. There is a significant challenge in that regard, as it is for us, given that we share a border and there is trade. Any export animals have to be tested before they can be exported, so that is less of a concern, but wildlife do not respect borders and it is something we are conscious of. We are always keen to work with, collaborate with and support our Northern colleagues where we can. We regularly have technical visits whereby their teams come down here or our teams go up there. We are keen to assist them in any way we can and, similarly with them. We have had good assistance from them where necessary or appropriate. I agree that it is not a good situation and they would be the first to acknowledge that. The fact that they have had these significant reviews in recent months saying they need to change things speaks to that. Unfortunately, there are political problems up there. They do not have a Minister or a devolved Government in place. Substantial decisions cannot be taken until those structures are in place, so it is challenge.

There are some other questions to be answered before I bring in Deputy Ó Cuív. Senator Mulherin had questions on cattle rustling and she asked if the source of the problem in Monaghan had been found. She also asked about regimes in other countries.

Mr. Michael Sheahan

On cattle rustling, the numbers of cattle stolen are relatively small in the grand scheme of things. We are not aware of that being a particular risk factor in any outbreaks.

As regards the cause of the problems in County Monaghan, for a number of years the county was at the national average in terms of the level of disease and then it crept up and after that there was a dramatic increase over a couple of years. We have not attributed it to one particular factor but TB is like that; it is not a disease where there is just one factor such as badgers, deer, quality of testing or whatever else. A number of factors are usually involved. Monaghan has a few issues. The farms there tend to be fragmented. Northern Ireland may also be a factor. There was an embargo for a number of years on recruitment of staff so it is possible that in some of our offices around the country we had fewer staff than we might have liked to deal with issues. We cannot identify one single factor and say that is what caused the graph to go up, no more than with the outbreak in Kerry at the beginning of last year. We will probably never know. All it might take to cause a problem in an area is for one infected animal to be bought in that has passed the test and is not showing signs of the disease and if it goes into a herd and is stressed in some way, it becomes a super shedder and sheds significant volumes of infected bacteria. Accordingly, a large number of cattle in a herd could be infected and they could be sold to neighbouring herds before they are tested.

It is as simple as that. A couple of heavily infected animals that have not been detected in the test can do a lot of damage before we can get on top of the problem. Our experience in Kerry has shown that, even though we were unable to put our finger on the exact cause of the problem, once an intensified programme was put in place, the disease was clamped down on and the graph went down very quickly. We expect that to happen in Monaghan, and I will be very surprised if, this time next year, the graph has not come down very significantly.

A question about the regime in other countries was asked.

I asked about Argentina. We are competing in a market with it.

Mr. Michael Sheahan

Within the EU the reality is that most countries do not have TB. Most countries that had TB in the 1950s and 1960s put eradication programmes in place. They did not have the complications of a wildlife issue at the time, so their programmes were, in general, successful. The only countries within the EU with significant problems with this are Ireland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Spain has some problems, but not to the same extent, as does Italy. France has some minor problems, but beyond that it is not a problem within the EU.

Mr. Eoin Ryan

As Mr. Sheahan said, we operate within the EU context, but in most of the developing world TB is endemic and is very serious. It is a huge problem, as anyone who has worked in those countries will be aware. Argentina and Brazil control TB in their beef production herds by way of tests and slaughter without compensation. There is much less social support for it there. Those countries do not have the cap we have. That is one of the reasons that they produce beef at a lower cost than here. They have huge farms, but when they find an animal that tests positive for TB, they are just slaughtered. The programmes in place there are not analogous to Ireland because it is more about protecting the production of beef there. We are lucky in Ireland not to have still substantial production losses because of TB. A small number of animals here get actual tuberculosis, waste away and die, but it is not common. However, in other countries it is still a problem. It used to be a big problem in Ireland and caused a substantial production loss. Brazil and Argentina are not looking at TB eradication but rather at reducing the production losses. If positives are found, they are slaughtered.

Mr. Ryan has said that it is not comparable, but how effective is the approach taken in Brazil and Argentina compared with the approach we take?

Mr. Eoin Ryan

It is substantially less effective than our approach. It is critical to have stakeholder buy-in in matters like this and to look at all the risks. Even if there was buy-in from the big beef herds, there are still many smaller herds which do not want to co-operate with a programme if no compensation is provided when animals are slaughtered.

We are aware we are working in an international context and support links with our international colleagues. Indeed, there is going to be a large meeting in Galway in 2020, which we are helping to organise, where all the TB programme managers from across the world will meet to discuss these issues. The particular areas relevant to Ireland, Wales, England, Northern Ireland and France are not quite the same as those relevant to other countries, but there are large areas of cross-over.

This is one of the ways in which we are continually trying to make sure that we are aligned with international best practice and the latest research. It is important to build those international links. Canada and the United States are free of TB, and we want to make sure that does not come up in any of our trade deals. China can have concerns, as can Australia and New Zealand. It is important to maintain good links with those countries. I can provide very limited information on Argentina and Brazil, but we do work in an international context. People often ask what the TB situation is when they are looking at animals or animal products, so it is important to engage internally with our own stakeholders and farming organisations. We also want to stay aware of our international colleagues, not just because it is nice to know what is going on but also because it has a direct relevance to making sure people have confidence in our trade. We have to ensure that trading partners believe our programme works, and if they know us, they can have faith that it works. That is how we are addressing that issue.

I have been following most of the deliberations on the monitor, but if I ask questions that have been asked already, the witness can tell me.

I welcome the officials. In the past five or six months, following the severe drought, did the Department notice a spike in the incidence of TB arising in places where farming practices have changed such that farmers are feeding livestock in fields and dropping the meal and mixture in those fields? The Department does background research on farms that pick up TB. Did it notice that those farms had changed their practice of feeding livestock in the past six months?

The compensation issue is the most important one. It is all fine if the cow is there and the milk is going to the creamery, but there are many beef or suckler farmers who become locked up with phenomenal costs. At the end of the day, compensation depends on the size and weight of the livestock unit. No matter what way prices go, costs are involved in paying for the farm management operation. Some farms must carry stock for longer periods if they are locked up a second time. Compensation has become a significant issue and it is incorporated into the added costs.

On a more trivial point, Mr. Ryan mentioned that the Department had tested deer near Wicklow and he noted that some strains were more prone to TB. Is it the same in the case of livestock? Given the variety of lactating cows on our farms, is there a prevalence in different breeds for picking up TB more easily than others?

My colleagues raised the idea of establishing a TB forum, which we welcome. Does the Department see itself going down the road of all-out blood testing as opposed to testing under the skin? From what I see in my backyard, herds go down in double rather than single digits, and recently there have been very high levels of TB. What is happening and what is causing it in an area that I thought had been cleared?

I trust that there was no repetition in my contribution.

No, you were not too bad.

Mr. Michael Sheahan

The Deputy came up with a few good new ones. On the drought, which obviously had a significant impact on many parts of the country, we have not seen any pattern that would link a change in behaviour to problems in an area or whatever. It is often the case with TB, however, that it is only when one looks back 12 or 18 months later that one might see a pattern, but thus far we have not seen a pattern of meal-feeding practices changing the levels of TB in an area.

On whether there is a difference in the prevalence of TB among different cattle like that among deer, we had touched on that earlier. In recent times, there has been quite a bit of work done on genetic resistance. The Irish Cattle Breeding Federation, ICBF, can now tell us that particular lines of bulls tend to be more resistant to TB than other lines. The ICBF and others have done work on that, and over the next couple of years it will become a larger part of the tools we use to tackle TB. In regard to specific breeds, we would not say, for example, that the Hereford breed is more susceptible than Aberdeen Angus because we do not have any evidence of that. There is no doubt, however, that genetics is an issue.

Mr. Eoin Ryan

That was an example of great research carried out by Teagasc. There was much discussion earlier about how we want what we are doing to be driven by data and research, and we have got value from that research, which was carried out by top-class Irish researchers. It is an example of Teagasc doing great work. One of the outcomes from the research was that there is more variation within breeds than between them, that is, the difference of the bull is much more important than the difference between a Holstein, a Hereford or a Limousin. It was an important question because it is often asked whether a Limousin or Charolais, for example, is more susceptible, but the outcome was that the bull drives the susceptibility much more than breed variation.

Mr. Michael Sheahan

Compensation is becoming a more significant issue. While people complain and farming organisations will often make an issue of compensation, we find in practice that our valuation system works very well. If a farmer is not happy with the valuation, he or she has the chance to appeal and a second valuation will be made. However, the number of appeals is very low. Approximately 3% of all valuations are appealed, with half of the appeals being taken by the Department and the other half by farmers. It is a very low rate of appeals. Perhaps farmers are never happy with the prices they receive at marts, but when one speaks to them privately, our experience is that the valuation system is fair.

I am not talking about when the detected animal is being valued but about the carryover period when a farm is locked down.

Mr. Michael Sheahan

Ireland is probably the only country in the world which actually provides compensation above and beyond the valuation of an animal. We have a hardship grant which is a small amount of money to tide certain categories of farmer over the winter period where they are forced to keep extra stock. We also have an income supplement. This may be the only country in the world with these systems. Certainly, they do not and are not designed to compensate a person fully for the loss of every single gallon of milk or kilo of meat, but they are unique to Ireland.

With respect, it is about the salvage value of the animal, not its value.

Mr. Michael Sheahan

The salvage value has no impact on the farmer.

With respect, the full value of the animal is not compensated for, which would be the live valuation. If one has a good dairy cow on her second lactation and is unfortunate enough to have her go down in September or October, one will definitely not receive the full value of that animal.

Mr. Michael Sheahan

The evidence suggests otherwise. Valuations are based on the market value of the animal if it did not have TB. In other words, if it is a second lactation cow sold in a clearance sale, the valuation is designed to reflect what the animal would make if it did not have TB.

We will be here a long time arguing this one and will not get agreement on it.

Mr. Michael Sheahan

A very small number of people appeal the valuation. We also appeal a small number when we believe it is too generous or not accurate. While the issue is raised, we find in practice that it is not as significant as some might have someone believe.

A question was also asked about blood testing. It was probably covered earlier. We were asked if we would be using all out blood testing instead of skin testing. The answer is "No". The reason we cannot or would not do it is while there are many advantages to the blood test, it produces a higher level of false positives. If one was to test 100 cattle, one would get three false positives. As such, it is not a test one can use in the general population of 6 million cattle as one would end up with too many false positives. We only use it in herds where we know that there is a problem. In these cases, we use it in addition to the skin test. It then has the advantage of picking out infected animals not picked up by the skin test. It picks them up at an earlier stage. As such, it is a very useful extra tool in dealing with infected herds, but it is not a tool to use in the wider population, given the excessive number of false positives.

On the consequential loss issue, I give the example of a farmer who carries store cattle but usually lets them off in the autumn. If his or her farm is locked up before October and before he or she goes to the mart, his or her cycle is upset. He or she is carrying stock into the winter, which means extra feed and extra costs when he or she is not into that type of farming. That is the loss I am on about. In that situation it is no good going to the bank to look for more money. Down the road, such a farmer could be caught by new climate change rules for stocking. What is being put in place for such farmers?

Mr. Michael Sheahan

I am not trying to say that when someone's farm is locked up because of TB, it is hassle free. Obviously, it is not and is the last thing anyone wants to see happen.

At certain times of the year, in particular, to put it mildly, it makes life very awkward for those involved in a sector that is not the most profitable in the world. The Teagasc figures indicate that suckler cow or beef farming is not a profitable business in which to be involved in the first place. Because of the added burden of having their farms locked up, we want to get rid of TB as quickly as possible, which is why we are committed to working with everyone to have it done by, or even before, 2030 in certain parts of the country. I will not try to pretend that there is no hardship involved. There is and the income supplement and the hardship grant have been designed to help to alleviate some of the associated difficulties.

I have a final question before we wrap up the discussion. What is the cost so far to the State?

I have asked that question already.

I am sorry. I had a note-----


I wanted to keep it for last.

Mr. Michael Sheahan

In total, the cost of the scheme is approximately €85 million.

I want to find out what it has cost from the beginning.

Mr. Michael Sheahan

I will ask my colleagues if we have that figure.

We know what the annual figure is, but I am asking for the figure for the cost of the scheme from the 1950s.

From 1956.

Mr. Colm Forde

If we use the figure for last year of €85 million, as Mr. Sheahan suggested, as a ballpark figure going back to 1954, in today's money, it would equate to €5.5 billion approximately. If we keep going at the same rate-----

That is not-----

Mr. Michael Sheahan

I think it is because, as we have outlined, the incidence of the disease is far lower level now than previously. If we keep spending at the current rate to 2030, it will amount to a further €1 billion. That is why we believe there is significant urgency to getting everyone around the table to try to eradicate the disease as quickly as possible.

Teagasc owes it to the public to do its best with the money as it could be used to do a great deal of other work.

Mr. Michael Sheahan

There are some difficult decisions to be made about risk-based trading and so on. The prize is that if we eradicate TB by 2030 or sooner, there will be a huge cost saving for farmers who are carrying the bulk of the burden and the taxpayer who is carrying the rest. That is the reason we are so keen to try to reach a consensus, even to make some of the difficult decisions in the short term, but the prize is huge and achievable.

I thank Mr. Sheahan, Mr. Breslin, Ms Greene, Mr. Ryan and Mr. Forde for attending. I also thank members for their contributions. It has been a very informative session. It is an issue about which we will probably hear more in due course.

Sitting suspended at 5.55 p.m. and resumed at 4 p.m.