I propose to take Questions Nos. 520 to 525, inclusive, together.
The statutory basis for the BVD eradication programme is S.I. No. 532 of 2012, which provides the legal basis for requiring herd owners to take tissue samples and to forward these samples to a designated approved laboratory. The tissue tag meets the requirements of the relevant EU regulations on the identification of bovine animals. As BVD is not subject to control at EU level, EU approval is not required for the eradication programme. However, my Department has advised the EU Commission of the programme. With regard to the BVD test, testing both blood and tissue (ear punch) samples are widely used diagnostic testing methods for BVD and, when combined with appropriate validated test methods, are suitable for the detection of persistently infected cattle. Testing is carried out by laboratories designated for that purpose as listed in S.I. No. 532 of 2012. One of the requirements for designation of a laboratory is that it performs BVD testing according to externally accredited standards. The test methods in use in Ireland (ELISA and RTPCR) have been extensively used in similar national BVD programmes, including Switzerland and Germany. The tests are considered to be accurate and reliable. However, it is recognised that no biological test is 100% accurate. A disclaimer to this effect is included on the BVD information leaflet distributed to farmers.
With regard to the compulsory removal of animals once they give a positive reaction to the test, one of the key objectives of the BVD programme is to prevent transfer of infection between herds. The data generated through the voluntary phase of the programme has highlighted the risks presented by the trade in animals of unknown status. The BVD Order 2012 addresses this risk by prohibiting the movement of animals that are under suspicion of being affected with BVD, except for disposal directly to slaughter or under ministerial permit. My Department recognises the importance of prompt removal of persistently infected animals to prevent further spread of infection within and between herds and encourages herd owners to remove persistently infected animals immediately. I am satisfied that the BVD regulations are in compliance with the Data Protection Act 1993.
While the Irish Cattle Breeders Federation does not have a statutory role in the BVD eradication scheme, it plays an important role in the programme in that it receives the test results from designated testing laboratories and transfers these to the AIM/AHCS system in a cost-effective and time-effective manner. The Irish Cattle Breeders Federation also issues letters and SMS text messages relating these test results to farmers on behalf of my Department. In addition, it provides data to the BVD implementation group in relation to the management of the programme. Any contribution made by herd owners to the operational costs of the Irish Cattle Breeders Federation in the context of purchasing tags is voluntary. This voluntary contribution pre-dates the introduction of the BVD eradication scheme and is completely unrelated to it. I emphasise that my Department attaches considerable importance to the successful eradication of BVD and is making a significant contribution towards the scheme, in particular through its financial support to Animal Health Ireland. In addition, my Department has already committed to providing, free of charge, a blood-based test to confirm the persistently infected status of those calves that give a positive result on tag testing. It will also provide a blood test for the dams of those calves and any progeny of persistently infected cows.