The bovine TB eradication programme includes a comprehensive range of measures aimed at eradicating TB from the cattle population in Ireland through testing and the control of cattle movements in order to prevent the spread of disease. More specifically, the programme provides for the mandatory annual testing of all cattle in the national herd, the implementation of a range of supplementary tests and the restriction of herds where TB is disclosed or suspected.
With regard to restrictions on holdings which adjoin a holding containing a herd which has disclosed TB, my Department has implemented what is known as a Contiguous testing programme for the past 30 years. Under this programme, herdowners whose herds are adjoining a holding where a high risk TB breakdown has been disclosed, usually involving more than one reactor, are required to have their herd tested if it has not been tested within the preceding 4 months.
The eradication programme is reviewed on an ongoing basis by my Department in light of experience and research. Following a review conducted on the programme last year, my Department introduced a number of changes in order to ensure that the programme addressed all potential sources of infection and to prevent the spread of disease from infected herds to clear herds. These changes, which were made following a number of consultation meetings with the farming organisations, are, firstly, based on research which demonstrates that there are increased risks attached to the movement of certain animals and, secondly, are designed to protect clear herds from buying in high risk animals.
With regard to the changes to the arrangements relating to the testing of neighbouring or contiguous herds, I would like to emphasise that the only change which my Department has made is that herds adjoining a high risk breakdown are now being trade restricted, except to slaughter, pending a TB test. They will, however, be permitted to buy in cattle for a short period while awaiting a test. Previously, such herds were permitted to sell cattle on the open market prior to carrying out the test and research had shown that this posed a risk to clear herds. Research has shown the TB risk relating to animals that move out of herds which have been identified as contiguous to a herd experiencing an active high risk TB breakdown is almost 3 times greater than the risk in the case of herds tested on a round test. The objective of the restriction is to protect clear herds from buying in infected animals from these herds and thereby avoid the situation where a clear herd that buys in infected cattle is required to carry out a minimum of 2 herd tests and is restricted for 4 months.
I have clarified that herd owners will be contacted by my Department prior to restriction and only those herds which, on a case by case consideration, are identified as genuinely relevant to the breakdown will be restricted. Those farmers whose herds are restricted can minimise any impact by arranging to have their herds tested as soon as possible. Any herd which tests clear will be immediately de-restricted.
With regard to the four month testing interval, the choice of four months as the benchmark period under this programme is not new and has been part of the contiguous testing programme for the past 30 years. The four month period is related to the time interval from when an animal may be exposed to infection and the expectation that a test will give a positive result, if the animal is infected. In line with the new procedures relating to overdue tests, it is open to herd owners who have a genuine reason for delaying the contiguous test to get in contact with my Department and the test can be deferred for up to one month without penalty. I would also emphasise that staff in my regional offices will always be available to discuss, with any affected herd owner, the particular circumstances relating to their herd. I would finally underline that the primary objective of the initiative is to reduce the risk that farmer purchasers of animals will unknowingly buy a potentially infected animal from a higher risk herd.
Finally, I believe that the restriction on contiguous herds pending a test should have a very limited effect on trade in cattle. In effect, it is only those herds in which TB is disclosed that will be restricted for any significant period of time.