Following Government approval in May 2018, I established a TB Stakeholder Forum in September 2018 tasking it with bringing forward proposals consistent with the objective of eradicating bovine TB by 2030. The Terms of Reference for the Forum outlined that its deliberations should be in line with the principles from the National Farmed Animal Health Strategy:
- Working in Partnership;
- Acknowledging Roles and Responsibilities;
- Prevention is Better than Cure; and
- Reflecting Costs and Benefits
It is estimated that the total annual net cost of the TB Programme is over €90 million a year of which €45 million is provided by the Exchequer, €35 million from farmers and €10 million from the EU. EU co-funding for the TB Programme peaked at €12.7 million in 2014 but has been falling steadily since then. The EU has capped its contribution at €8.3 million for 2019 marking a 35% reduction in 5 years. All indications suggest further significant cuts are likely requiring this shortfall in funding to be met by the State and farmers. With this is mind and reflecting the Costs and Benefits principle from the National Farmed Animal Health Strategy, I understand the Forum is proposing an independent review into the Costs and Benefits of the TB Programme to inform its future financing.
It is important to note the existing levels of support provided to Irish farmers when they experience a TB restriction. For every reactor (animal identified as infected with TB) taken from a farm, the herdowner is compensated for the open market value of that animal as if it was otherwise healthy. This is referred to as the On Farm Market Valuation Scheme. The cost of this Scheme increased from €10.5 million in 2017 to €14.3 million (+36%) in 2018. Separately, Ireland operates a number of supplementary compensation schemes which are not replicated in other countries that have a bovine TB Programme. These schemes (Hardship Grant, Income Supplement and Depopulation Grant) are designed to assist farmers with additional costs and consequential losses associated with a TB restriction. Following increases in rates and changes to eligibility for these schemes in 2015, the cost of these schemes has increased by €1.7 million (80%) relative to 2015 when disease metrics have remained broadly stable over that period.
Currently, approximately 4,000 farm families per annum suffer the hardship and stress associated with a TB outbreak and associated restrictions. Trends to date in 2019 suggest a similar number of farm families will be afflicted with a TB breakdown this year, marking the fifth consecutive year of stagnation in TB herd incidence.
Clearly, eradicating the disease as quickly as possible will result in significant savings for all affected stakeholders and a reduction in associated stress for herdowners. As outlined above, the direct savings to farmers if the disease were eliminated is estimated at approximately €35 million per annum, and that is before any market or other impacts are factored in. I am committed to supporting measures which can support this objective.
I understand that the TB Stakeholder Forum's most recent meeting was on June 25th and I expect that the Chairman will send me an Interim Report shortly. I look forward to considering its contents with a view to subsequently launching a TB 2030 Strategy.