Bovine TB is a very complex, multi-factorial and challenging disease that is difficult to eradicate and which has an adverse impact on those farm businesses affected by it. It is widely regarded as the most difficult animal disease problem currently facing government, the veterinary profession and the farming industry.

DAERA's committment

There is no simple cost-effective solution or “quick fix” to eradicate TB in cattle. Eradication requires the use of a range of measures aimed at addressing the infection in cattle and preventing its spread from wildlife.

DAERA is committed to reducing and ultimately eradicating TB in cattle. Eradication of TB cannot be achieved by DAERA alone nor can it be achieved in the immediate future. Government, industry stakeholders and farmers must work in partnership to tackle this disease and reduce its spread.

DAERA's immediate goals are (a) to maintain trade and (b) to produce more effective and efficient ways of reducing transmission of TB between cattle and between wildlife and cattle.

DAERA has a rigorous EU Commission approved TB eradication programme in place that complies with the EU Trade Directive 64/432/EEC (as amended), which enables us to secure some €5 million per year towards the costs of our Programme. This EU approved TB eradication programme is vital in safeguarding our £1,000 million plus, export-dependent livestock and livestock products industry. It also reduces the risk of disease in humans and clinical disease in cattle. As a result over 90% of our herds are free to engage in that international trade at any time. EU approval for our TB eradication programme and compliance with the Trade Directive 64/432/EEC (as amended) will continue to be a priority for us.

The European Commision Health and Food Safety Directorate-General's website, available at the link below, contains copies of current and previous TB eradication programmes as well as decisions regarding funding, including those relating to the United Kingdom's TB eradication programme.

Our TB eradication programme is focused on detection of diseased or high risk animals; the compulsory removal of these animals from their herd of origin to slaughter; and restriction of movements of cattle from infected herds until the herds are tested clear. All cattle herds here are tested annually with the tuberculin skin test, which is the standard EU test for screening cattle for TB. Some animals are tested more frequently if in contact with infected animals. The gamma interferon test is also used in conjunction with the skin test to improve diagnosis of TB in certain situations.

In recent years considerable work has been undertaken to enhance our TB eradication programme. We now remove as reactors those animals that give an inconclusive result to a second consecutive TB test rather than after a third test as before. We have improved communications with Private Veterinary Practitioners (PVPs) and strengthened the TB testing supervision process. We have also improved our own delivery of TB testing through monitoring Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). In addition, we use DNA identity tags on TB reactors to help reduce identity queries, substitution fraud and associated disease risks. A summary of DAERA's TB Control Programme can be found at the link below.

As a result of our eradication programme, there has been progress made in reducing TB incidence in cattle in Northern Ireland. The herd incidence reduced from some 10% in 2002 to 4.99% at 31 August 2011. Since then there was a NI-specific, sharp and largely unexplained rise in TB annual herd incidence to peak at 7.46% at 31 October 2012 before starting to decline again. Monitoring disease levels is an important aspect of our TB Programme and disease incidence figures are monitored each month and published on the DAERA website – there is a link to these statistics below.

Research into this disease has been carried out over the years by DAERA officials and by staff from the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI). Further information on TB research and development is available at the link below.

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