Plans to eradicate bovine TB by 2030 or sooner, and make a huge cost saving for farmers and taxpayers, would include risk-based cattle trading.
Risk-based trading, which is the norm in New Zealand, categorises every herd, so that cattle buyers know the TB risk category of the herd from which they are buying.
“If one is in the highest risk category, one is only allowed to sell animals to others in that category. One is not allowed to sell animals to somebody who is in a low-risk category,” said Department of Agriculture deputy chief veterinary officer Michael Sheahan, during the recent Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture discussion on the TB Eradication Programme.
However, he emphasised that this is not a proposal from the Department, but is one of many issues being discussed at the TB stakeholder forum established this year by Agriculture Minister Michael Creed, as part of his commitment to eradicate TB by 2030.
TDs and senators at the Committee discussion pointed out that no one can currently sell any livestock in the mart without having a clear test, and warned that risk-based trading could devalue a farmer’s stock, with particularly adverse consequences for suckler herdowners.
“From a science point of view, if we had risk-based trading, meaning that information on the risk status of the herd from which they were buying was available to a person buying cattle, it would lead us to eradication quickly,” said Mr Sheahan.
He said risk-based trading is beginning in the UK, whereby one gives people the information in regard to the risk of the animals they are buying.
He said it is one of many tricky decisions that stakeholders will have to agree on in the TB forum.
He told the Committee members TB eradication will cost a further €1 billion, “if we keep spending at the current rate to 2030”.
“That is why we believe there is significant urgency to getting everyone around the table to try to eradicate the disease as quickly as possible.”
“That is the reason we are so keen to try to reach a consensus, even to make some of the difficult decisions in the short term, but the prize is huge and achievable.”
He explained, “A dairy farmer with 200 animals will have invested a considerable amount in his herd and facilities. If he needs to buy 20 cattle, the last thing he wants to do is to buy a TB problem.
“However, he is buying a pig in a poke at the moment.
“He has no way of knowing if he should buy 20 cattle from Joe Bloggs, Paddy Smith or whoever.
“However, we have the information, and know with a good degree of accuracy what his risk would be by buying from one herd as distinct from another.
“Should we make that information available to a person with a dairy herd of 200 or even a herd of 50 suckler cows?
“Do they have a right to know which herd represents the lowest risk?
“Someone who has one of the 97% of herds that are clear of TB and who has made a significant investment in that herd obviously has a vested interest in knowing the differing risks of buying animals from one herd as distinct from another.
“On the other hand, a person who is selling and has had no TB in the herd for ten years would obviously not have a problem with making that fact known on a mart board or elsewhere.
“However, someone who has had 16 breakdowns in the past seven years will not want that information to be made available to somebody looking to buy cattle, because nobody in their right mind would want to buy animals from that person.”