Dáil Éireann - Volume 507 - 01 July, 1999

Other Questions. - Bovine Diseases.

8. Mr. M. Brennan asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if the measures introduced to prevent the spread of bovine tuberculosis and brucellosis are proving effective; if the time has come for an in-depth review of the causes of the disease and the methods of prevention; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16533/99]

Mr. N. O'Keeffe: While considerable progress has been made in reducing the incidence of TB and brucellosis, it has not been possible to eradicate either disease from the national herd. Less than 0.5 per cent of animals are deemed TB reactors and 0.2 per cent of herds are affected by brucellosis each year.

As regards TB, the disease level tends to be cyclical. The 1997 level was the lowest recorded for many years. The rate of disclosure of TB reactors was higher in 1998 than in recent years. This higher incidence has continued this year. Similar [839] levels of increase occurred in Northern Ireland and parts of Britain. A detailed review of the causes for the increased level of the disease here is being undertaken. Review discussions have taken place with the farming bodies and veterinary groups in the scientific sub-group of the animal health forum. Proposals for additional measures which emanate from the scientific subgroup will be considered by the full animal health forum which will be convened shortly.

As regards research, a number of projects, including the specialised work of the TB investigation unit, are continuing with the aim of providing new technologies required to eradicate TB. The research is focused in particular on the role of wildlife and the possible development of a vaccine for use in wildlife as well as establishing the best possible information on the causes of the disease spread. Research projects are also under way in the United Kingdom.

Regarding brucellosis, following a period when the incidence of the disease was relatively stable, the situation deteriorated in 1996. In view of this, it became necessary to introduce additional measures to control the disease. While it is still too early to evaluate the success of these measures, the report of a mission by the EU Food and Veterinary Office, FVO, experts which was recently published endorses the current programme arrangements which should significantly reduce the prevalence of the disease over a period of two calving cycles.

The scientific sub-group of the animal health forum has concluded in principle that substantive changes in the existing brucellosis programme should not be made. The Department recently added a number of initiatives to this programme designed to complement existing measures and to close off any loopholes that may exist. Among the measures and pilot projects introduced are the screening of culled cows at meat factories to identify possible unreported abortions in clear herds and the use of a whey elisa test to confirm the presence of brucellosis in cases of positive milk ring test results.

The operation of the schemes is overseen by the animal health forum which was established in 1996 as part of the new arrangements agreed for the administration of the disease eradication schemes. The central focus of the forum is to discuss and make recommendations on the operation of the eradication schemes and to review progress in regard to the existing arrangements.

The arrangements being applied for TB and brucellosis for 1999 will be kept under examination in consultation with the animal health forum. In this regard the arrangements for TB and brucellosis from 1996 are due to be comprehensively reviewed this year.

Mr. Ellis: Is there a need to reintroduce the pre-movement test to identify the large number of reactors? The withdrawal of this test has led to a major increase in the incidence of TB.

[840] Mr. N. O'Keeffe: There are no plans to introduce a pre-movement test. For some unknown reason, there is an increased incidence of TB in the United Kingdom. This is being looked at. All the matters referred to by the Deputy are being looked at by the sectors involved in the animal health forum which meets regularly.

Mr. Connaughton: A new 30 day test has been introduced prior to the export of cattle. In view of this, does the Minister of State agree that a 30 day pre-movement test will be foisted on us whether we like it or not?

Mr. N. O'Keeffe: The test to which the Deputy referred has only been introduced today. Animal disease control imposes substantial costs on the Exchequer. Total costs this year are likely to run to £90 million, of which administration costs will account for approximately £25 million. Total costs last year were in the region of £80 million.

Mr. Connaughton: Will a 30 day pre-movement test be imposed?

Mr. N. O'Keeffe: There are no plans to impose any further new tests on the farming community.

Mr. Penrose: Disease control costs are heading towards £100 million. Have departmental officials, veterinary officers in particular, identified the causes of the spread of disease which is rampant throughout the country?

Mr. N. O'Keeffe: The special investigations unit is being strengthened, particularly in areas where brucellosis presents a problem. While there is an association with weaknesses in the human system, the causes remain to be identified. The costs are prohibitive. This will not be allowed to continue.

Mr. Crawford: Given the possible establishment of cross-Border groupings, are there any plans to conduct cross-Border research? There is a major problem in the Border counties.

Mr. N. O'Keeffe: Work is being done in Northern Ireland and throughout the rest of the United Kingdom where the levels of increase are similar. Various links have been formed.

Mr. Crawford: Can this be done at local level?

Mr. N. O'Keeffe: Work is ongoing.