Since December 2018, Department officials, Professor Simon More of UCD and Veterinary Ireland representatives have appeared in front of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine.
The submission provided by Professor More to the Committee highlighted that prior to the development of a vaccine for badgers, eradication of bovine TB in Ireland was not possible with the policy tools available. However, following the successful scientific trialling of badger vaccination, research from UCD concluded that the current TB Eradication Programme has the tools available to achieve eradication.
Good progress has been made in reducing the incidence of TB in cattle in recent years. In the year 2000, 10,785 farmers experienced a TB restriction. In contrast, in 2018 there were 3, 874 herds restricted for TB, a 65% decrease on the year 2000 figures. While this historically low level of TB is very much to be welcomed, the work done in UCD tells us that without some additional measures the estimated timeline for eradication is 60 to 90 years.
The impacts of TB on a farmer are severe, causing financial hardship and emotional stress. This is why it is so important to reduce the numbers of farmers affected and to move to eradicate this disease. For that reason, I directed my officials to establish the TB Stakeholder Forum last year, so that all stakeholders can have a voice in discussing which policy options should be chosen to reduce disease levels and eradicate bovine TB from Ireland. Maintaining the status quo, with the addition of badger vaccination will lead to eradication over a 60-90 year period, but the science from UCD suggests that extra measures that could be applied to the programme can bring about eradication in a much shorter time frame. The forum has been tasked with agreeing measures that can further address disease transmission with the objective of achieving eradication by 2030. All stakeholders at the Forum have an opportunity to discuss which choices should be made to reduce TB levels.
I look forward to receiving a report from the forum in the coming months.