Written Answers. - Bovine Diseases.

Paul McGrath

Ceist:

19 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food his plans to amend the current system of BSE culling; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18916/03]

I have no plans to amend the current BSE depopulation system for the present, although the position is kept under ongoing review. Current EU law requires the slaughter of the entire herd, birth cohorts and progeny when a BSE case is confirmed. However, it also permits by derogation the slaughter of birth cohorts and progeny only where the epidemiological circumstances justify such an approach.

In practice, other member states with substantial numbers of BSE cases avail of this derogation because it is generally accepted that from a scientific perspective the main cause of BSE is consumption of infected feedstuffs, with a theoretical possibility of maternal transmission from dam to calf. Horizontal transmission is not considered to be a significant factor in the spread of the disease. Such countries are not, however, as heavily reliant on exports as Ireland, and all have substantial domestic markets. Over time whole herd depopulation, along with the full spectrum of BSE controls operating in Ireland, have become critical elements in providing reassurance to consumers and in marketing Irish beef and dairy produce at home and abroad. In these circumstances, and while cases continue to be confirmed at current levels, it is not possible to assess precisely the market reaction to any decision to terminate Ireland's whole herd slaughter policy.

In addition, a change in policy would affect individual farmers whose herds may be affected by the disease. Farmers left with animals which had been in the same herd as a BSE-positive animal would face grave difficulties in selling beef or milk to processors. All the evidence available indicates that BSE numbers here are declining and that the reduction will be maintained. Consequently net Exchequer costs of whole herd depopulation will be lower in 2003 and in future years compared with expenditure in 2002. Although savings could be achieved through adopting a partial depopulation approach, such savings must be weighed against the anticipated adverse reaction on markets, particularly in relation to third country exports, which are valued at €1.4 billion, and the impact on individual farmers. I am, however, keeping this matter under very close scrutiny.

Jim O'Keeffe

Ceist:

20 Mr. J. O'Keeffe asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if he will report on the current state of bovine disease eradication. [18901/03]

The current disease eradication schemes in place for bovine tuberculosis and brucellosis comply fully with the relevant EU legislation in place, namely Council Directive 64/432/EU, as amended. The programme has been successful in reducing the level of tuberculosis from 17% of animals in 1955 to 0.3% of animals today. The maintenance of this low level of disease makes it possible for Ireland to trade with other countries and as 90% of bovines are exported in one form or another this is of immense benefit to the Irish economy. In the past three years the number of TB reactors has reduced from 39,847 to 28,930, a decrease of 27%. However, further progress towards final eradication is constrained by the presence of a wildlife reservoir of infection. The four-area badger study has just been completed and the final report on the result of the study is in the process of being prepared for publication.

Brucellosis has also improved, with a 48% reduction in the number of newly restricted herds and the number of herd depopulations for the first five months of 2003 compared with similar data for 2000. Further progress is anticipated but it must be borne in mind that this disease is extremely contagious and continued vigilance is required. My Department has an ongoing research programme and liaises with international bodies and organisations in relation to developments in TB and brucellosis eradication.