Proposals to charge farmers for bovine TB tests will cost the average business a further £257 a year, with bigger herds to be charged even more.

The proposition to charge for the tests was made in the TB Strategic Partnership Group (TBSPG) report which is now under consultation.

It will see farmers charged for one test a year, with any further tests to be paid for by the government.

However, the department will not set the price for tests with rates left to private veterinarians to decide.

The cost to the department for private practices to carry out TB testing in 2016-17 was:

First Animal – £54.50;
For each animal tested between two and 100 animals – £2.50 each;
For each animal tested from 101 animals – £2.28 each.

The average size of a herd test in 2016/17 was 82 animals meaning that – if farmers were to get the same rate as the department – the average TB test costs £257 a year.

Similarly, a 100-cow herd would cost £302, and a 200-cow herd would cost £530.

A DAERA spokesperson said: “The department’s proposals in response to the TBSPG recommendations are at consultation stage.

A final decision on action will be made, ministers informed by the outcome of the current consultation and it will be subject to the necessary approvals and budget availability.

“In the proposal in relation to TB tests, the department would not be setting a price for the TB test as this would be a matter for each individual farmer and their private veterinary practitioner.

“The proposal is for farmers to pay for one herd test per year, with the department continuing to pay for additional testing.”

The recommendations are similar to the policy in the Republic of Ireland, where TB rates have been successfully driven down in recent years.

The report explained the charges were “to ensure a more equitable way” of encouraging contribution from the industry and sense of cost sharing between both government and industry for the TB programme.

Compensation cap

It’s also proposed that a staged reduction and cap on the level of compensation would be introduced.

This year alone TB compensation is expected to cost Northern Ireland around £24 million – almost double the £12.6 million total four years ago.

Compensation is currently paid at 100% of the market value of the animal. In year one it would be reduced by 10% and in year two by a further 15%.

In addition a cap would be introduced. For non-pedigree animals this cap would be £1,500; for pedigree animals this cap would be £1,800 and for one pedigree stock bull per herd-keeper per year £3,500.

Following implementation of the percentage reduction DAERA would pay compensation to a herd-keeper at the lesser of the two – the percentage reduction or appropriate cap.

At its most basic level, if 100% compensation has been paid this year and this year’s total compensation is expected to hit £24 million, the 10% reduction in the first year will cost farmers in the region £2.4 million collectively – and that’s before any caps are taken into account.

Other key proposals include:

  • New management and partnership arrangements with a Northern Ireland TB Eradication Partnership Board, which will be recruited through a public appointment process;
  • The creation of three sub-regional boards is proposed. The groups will be involved in the operational planning of the TB programme and ad hoc local disease response teams, which will be set up in the event of severe TB outbreaks;
  • A number of enhancements to the existing TB programme including increased use of Gamma testing, action on chronic herds, herd testing prior to restocking, limiting movement from TB breakdown herds, DNA tagging by private vets, reactor quality assurance checks and the use of molecular typing;
  • Badger removal and vaccination in targeted areas. However, legislation changes will be required to take forward any agreed action;
  • The provision of information when purchasing, the use of segregation notices, use of TB-resistant genetic breeding, and enforcement of the disinfection of transport and other vehicles;
  • Further research into the causes of bovine TB and how to eradicate it.

In September, in light of increasing bovine TB incidence over the past year, DAERA introduced a number of new measures, including:

  • Further application of severe interpretation of skin tests in breakdown herds;
  • The introduction of a further herd test after a breakdown herd is derestricted in certain situations, to reduce the risk of further breakdowns;
  • A reactor quality assurance pilot to establish baseline data on TB skin test reactions;
  • The introduction of a biosecurity self-assessment checklist.

Farmers can respond to the proposals online until February 1, 2018.