The North’s agriculture minister Michelle Gildernew said there are indications that irresponsible and even criminal practices are at the heart of this cluster of infection, with decent farmers having to suffer the consequences.
“We know that we have the widespread backing of the farming community in our efforts to eradicate this disease. I am determined that the illegal activities of a few self-serving individuals do not undermine our efforts to eradicate brucellosis,” she said.
In a recent statement, she said there had been six confirmed breakdowns in the area, with additional herds expected to confirm shortly. This has resulted in the depopulation of over 300 cattle so far.
“The discovery of brucellosis on a farm comes with a large economic cost, not only to the affected farmer but neighbouring ones as well.
“We will take all necessary measures when brucellosis is confirmed on any farm and I want to remind farmers that there will be a zero tolerance approach to all confirmed cases,” she said.
Ms Gildernew said her officials will be working in close collaboration with their colleagues in the south.
“It is only through tough enforcement of brucellosis restrictions and a united effort across the rural community that we can eradicate this devastating disease from our countryside once and for all,” she said.
Mr Smith said in a written Dáil reply before the summer recess he was aware there had been an increase in the incidence of brucellosis in certain parts of Northern Ireland, particularly Co Armagh, since the beginning of 2010.
“However, based on available figures, the number of outbreaks in the province as a whole in the period January to April has fallen from 83 in 2008 to 36 in 2009 and again to 25 this year,” he told Labour spokesman Sean Sherlock.
Mr Smith said while the overall situation had improved, the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) in Northern Ireland had introduced additional testing in the Armagh area and believed the situation was now under control.
There are ongoing contacts between officials from his department and their counterparts in DARD in Northern Ireland.
He said his department’s veterinary officers in border areas have been requested to carry out a risk assessment and to draw up plans for additional testing measures if they are required.
As Monaghan is geographically most at risk, a comprehensive plan has been put in place involving some additional testing in selected areas and in selected high risk herds in that county. Other border county veterinary officers are also planning additional testing.
Mr Smith said imports of eligible animals from Northern Ireland are both pre-movement tested before leaving NI and post-movement tested for brucellosis on arrival in the south. Any further controls on imports would be contrary to EU legislation on trade in live animals.