Proposals made to introduce a TB levy in a bid to save compensation

Farmers are debating the possibility of introducing a levy on farm meat or milk to be used towards tackling the TB problem in Northern Ireland.

The issue has reached crisis point with incidence rates hitting their highest levels in more than a decade.

Ulster Farmers Union (UFU) officials have branded proposals to cut TB compensation as “legalised theft”.

However, chief veterinary officer Robert Huey has already warned compensation costs in the region are unsustainable.

In November, he told AgriLand he expected TB compensation alone would cost £24 million (€27.17 million) in 2017 – close to double the amount paid four years ago.

‘Time to put our hands in our pockets’

Speaking at the UFU roadshow event, deputy president Victor Chestnutt said: “There were a lot of recommedations which are extremely unpalatable – unpalatable and unworkable on farms.

“We are going to have to put our hands in our pockets to try to pay for wildlife intervention – because we fear if we do not pay for this, it will not happen.

“We have to tackle TB in the environment wherever it is. The time for tackling TB on 50% of the cause – which is the cattle – is long passed and it’s time for a new approach.”

The proposals have already been passed by at least two of the organisation’s committees with a further committee to make its decision on it and final approval by the executive needed before it will become UFU policy.

The TB levy proposals were widely supported by those in attendance, with the majority of members raising their hands when they were asked if they would be prepared to pay it.

Members of the audience asked a panel of UFU representatives what was being done about TB

TB levy

UFU deputy president Ivor Ferguson said: “We as farmers won’t adhere to any rules unless the wildlife problem is dealt with – that is something which is fundamental.

“The proposals are that we make a levy on milk or beef. One of the main reasons behind that is if we do that we can pay that into a wildlife fund and that fund will be used to deal with wildlife.

“If we do it any other way the money could be taken away and it could go to roads or to transport.”

Bidding process

The proposals are for the TB levy money – which will be paid voluntarily – to be held in a body controlled by farmers and with a tendering process where companies can bid to carry out the work.

UFU policy and technical manager James McCluggage added: “We’re not saying we’re going out there to wipe out the whole badger population – it’s wildlife intervention in those hotspot areas where there is a problem.

We need to tackle this; it’s been going on for 50 or 60 years and it’s time to tackle the core of the problem now.

“In the future it means we can look forward to a healthy cattle population and a healthy badger population which can live alongside each other but we have to begin wildlife intervention now.”