Consultations with stakeholders are taking place on the report of a working group on the future of the labs which are located in Athlone, Cork, Celbridge, Kilkenny, Limerick and Sligo.
Irish Farmers Association Animal Health Committee chairman Bert Stewart said the regional veterinary laboratory services are highly regarded and a vital support for farmers. He said the focus of Agriculture Minister Michael Creed and his officials must be the enhancement of services to farmers in all regional sites.
Farmers have made enormous investment in improving the health status of the national herd which benefits the agri-sector and wider rural economy.
“IFA has consistently sought strong meaningful State diagnostic support in this area and the Minister must enhance this service for all farmers,” he said.
Mr. Stewart said any approach other than strengthening the diagnostic services provided by the State on all regional sites would be counterproductive. Farmers rely on the quality and independence of the service provided by the strategically located regional veterinary laboratory structure.
“This structure facilitates the convenient and timely submission of samples by farmers and their vets when urgent, accurate and independent diagnosis of on-farm problems is required,” he said.
Mr. Stewart said with increasing herd sizes, farmers will face different challenges and animal health issues that will require the support of their local regional veterinary laboratory. The Department’s veterinary laboratories, operating through their regional bases, are best equipped to provide these vital services to farmers, he said.
Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association deputy president Pat McCormack said the labs are a critical piece of infrastructure for the multi-billion Euro agri-food sector. Their geographical spread is already low and any further closures would undermine their work, he added. It would also represent a real threat to the agri-food sector, specifically the farms that are its foundation. Mr. McCormack said it is important this service is accessible and located within a reasonable distance.
The ICMSA deputy president noted one of the stated aims of Minister Humphrey’s ‘Realising our Rural Potential’ plan is to reinvigorate rural districts by making them more attractive as locations in which to base businesses.
“We absolutely support that ambition but let’s begin by helping the businesses already located in rural districts - and that means the family farms that operate in every townland in rural Ireland,” he said.
Mr. McCormack said the ICMSA is calling for the incorporation of the regional veterinary labs into the new rural plan.