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Gildernew sets course for way ahead in TB fight

9 December, 2008

Sinn Féin Agriculture Minister Michelle Gildernew MP MLA has today made a statement to the Assembly outlining a new strategic approach to deal with TB in cattle in the North.

The minister updated the Assembly on the current disease situation here, outlining the strengths and benefits of the bovine TB programme and the need for a new way forward. She also explained that DARD has been working in partnership with the key industry and veterinary organisations in the TB Core Stakeholder Working Group and in consultation with wildlife interests to identify what more could be done to move further towards the eradication of TB in cattle.

Addressing the Assembly this morning, the minister said:

"I am clear that our ultimate aspiration should be the eradication of TB. I know that is what all stakeholders want to achieve.

"I said at the Balmoral Show that I would make a decision by the end of this year on the way forward on TB, including the contentious issue of badgers."

Turning to her new strategy, the minister said:

"We have identified with our key stakeholders a new strategic approach for how we deal with TB. This is an agreed joint industry/government approach on TB. The aim is, through industry and government partnership, to move towards the eradication of TB in the most cost-effective way and in a realistic timeframe."

"This strategy is designed as a holistic approach that addresses three key strands together, which are - real partnership between government and industry, controlling the spread of TB between cattle, and addressing the wildlife factor."

Moving to the timeframe, the minister explained that to eradicate TB will be a long and difficult process. The new strategic approach will be delivered through a series of phases and will lay the foundations that are necessary for the eventual eradication of this disease.

She noted that:

"The timing and implementation of the strategy as we move forward depends on how and when it is resourced."

The minister said that she had agreed to accept the Core Stakeholder Working Group's recommendation that the shared industry/government goals in the first five year phase of the strategy are - to maintain trade, and to produce more effective and efficient ways of reducing transmission of TB cattle to cattle and between wildlife and cattle.

She announced some early actions for the first phase, to include - continuing to maximise the effectiveness of delivery of the TB programme, progressing plans for a case control study to assess differences between herds that are infected and herds that remain free of disease with a view to developing biosecurity advice, undertaking background surveillance in wild deer, progressing plans for a badger prevalence study, developing plans for a badger removal trial, and supporting the development of a vaccine for badgers. The actions will be subject to the agreement of the DOE Minister where necessary, and to a business case and bids for the additional funding.

The minister concluded her statement by looking ahead to the next steps, which will be to work with key stakeholders to develop the strategy, and to consult formally before implementation.

She added:

"May I conclude by thanking all our stakeholders for their on-going constructive engagement with us in relation to TB. I know that success will be achieved through a shared understanding of the issues and shared commitment to the goals I have outlined." ENDS

Note to Editors

  1. There has been considerable progress made with TB in recent years in the North of Ireland. Since peak levels for the disease in 2002, the herd incidence has reduced here by nearly 50%.
  2. This is in contrast to the experience in Britain where the incidence of TB has been increasing over recent years.
  3. Whilst over recent months we have seen a levelling off in the downward trend in TB, and there has even been a slight increase, it is too early to say that this will be a sustained change in the direction of the trend.
  4. There is a key goal in the Programme for Government 2008-2011 to reduce by 27% the incidence of TB in cattle by 2011.
  5. Bovine TB is a very complex disease and it continues to be one of the most challenging and costly animal health problems here. The total cost to government of controlling this disease was over £21million in the 2007/08 financial year, plus costs to the sector.
  6. The current TB programme, which is based mainly on cattle controls, has contributed to the reduction in TB in cattle here. Importantly, it has supported trade in live cattle and products.
  7. The TB programme is based on the detection of diseased or high risk animals, the compulsory removal of these animals from their herd of origin to slaughter, and the restriction of movements of cattle from infected herds until they are tested clear. Generally, individual animals that test positive are removed rather than the whole herd. Cattle controls were enhanced here following the 2002 TB Policy Review.

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