TB action is long over-due; but some of the measures proposed by the department are “seriously concerning”, the UFU’s deputy president has warned.

Ulster Farmers’ Union deputy president, Victor Chestnutt, said that while the department’s (DAERA’s) consultation on plans for tackling TB was long overdue, he had “serious concerns” over some of the proposals.

The measures include a fee for annual TB tests, a cap on compensation, badger removal and the creation of new regional boards.

Chestnutt said: “We need to consider the document in full and consult with members but our initial reaction is that, while there are some proposals we can support, we have serious concerns about others.”

The proposals

The comments were made following DAERA’s announcement of a public consultation on proposals for eradicating bovine TB.

The measures include research into the cause of the disease and suggest culling and vaccinating badgers in two test areas, as well as testing badgers to see if they carry the same strain of the disease as cattle.

The plans are based on the recommendations from the TB Strategic Partnership Group (TBSPG). The consultation was due to be published at the beginning of 2017, but has been delayed as result of the situation at Stormont.

Chestnutt said it is “positive” that the department recognises the need to address TB in wildlife and added that the union will be making a “strong case” for a robust wildlife intervention programme.

“The union has always argued that meaningful action to tackle TB in wildlife must be taken before changes to compensation, or how tests are paid for, are even considered.

“To date, the department has failed to do this. We have serious concerns about any suggested changes to compensation or testing without the implementation of robust action to tackle TB in wildlife.”

Difficult decisions

A spokeswoman said the UFU is supportive of the proposals to create an overarching body and regional bodies to help coordinate efforts to eradicate the disease.

Chestnutt added: “This would give farmers greater input and control in tackling TB in their area. A co-ordinated approach is essential to help rid the countryside of this disease.

“Ideally, the farmer representatives on these groups will be nominated by the farming community and have a meaningful role in taking decisions.

TB has frustrated farmers for decades and is currently causing major problems on farms across the country. Everyone recognises the present situation cannot continue and action must be taken.

“Difficult decisions will have to be made.”