Dáil Éireann - Volume 630 - 06 February, 2007

Written Answers. - Bovine Disease Controls.

Mr. Kehoe asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the measures she is taking to [1724] eradicate tuberculosis; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [3574/07]

  Mary Coughlan: The overall national strategy for the eradication of TB provides for a comprehensive range of measures, including the mandatory annual testing for all cattle in the national herd, the early removal of reactors, a wildlife programme involving the targeted removal of badgers where they are implicated in a TB outbreak, the use of the gamma interferon test in problem herds, as an adjunct to the tuberculin test, and the depopulation of infected herds where the level or duration of infection indicates that this is necessary to clear the herd and/or protect the neighbourhood.

In addition, my Department also provides advice to farmers in relation to bio-security against TB infection such as maintaining satisfactory stock-proof boundary fencing, avoiding contact with other herds, exercising care in buying-cattle and ensuring that only recently tested animals are allowed move onto the farm. The ERAD compensation schemes are designed to encourage good bio-security practices and breaches of the various animal disease, welfare and identification regulations are subject to prosecution.

The present eradication programme is scientifically based and is kept under constant review, as evidenced by the changes that have occurred in recent times. Such recent changes include a more focused contiguous herd testing policy and greater use of the ancillary gamma interferon blood test in target herds. On the technology side, new and enhanced computer systems have been developed including an individual bovine animal unique identification and passport system, a computerised movement monitoring system for bovine animals (CMMS) and an animal health computer system (AHCS).

In addition, in view of the recognition that the incidence of the disease in wildlife is a major impediment to eradication of the disease, the current eradication scheme contains a significant wildlife strategy aimed at removing badgers in adjacent areas where they are implicated in tuberculosis breakdowns. The wildlife strategy is implemented under licence from and in co-operation with the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government.

These measures have improved the effectiveness of the programme as evidenced by a significant reduction in the incidence of the disease from 4.2 reactors per thousand in 1998 to 2.7 in 2006. A total of approximately 6.3 million animals were subject to at least one test within twelve months and approximately 8.9 million animal tests were carried out.

My Department will continue to monitor and review the effectiveness and efficiency of the programme on an on-going basis with a view to [1725] the eventual eradication of the disease. In this context, notwithstanding the fact that the existing wildlife strategy has contributed to a reduction in the incidence of bovine TB, it is accepted that the development of a vaccine for badgers is a prerequisite if eradication of tuberculosis from the cattle population is to be achieved. My Department, in conjunction with the Centre for Veterinary Epidemiology and Risk Analysis (CVERA), plans to commence a large-scale field trial of BCG in badgers in the near future to test the efficacy of a vaccine. However, any vaccine will not be available in the immediate future and in the meantime, the existing programme, updated as appropriate in light of developments, will remain in place.