CLARE farmers hit by an outbreak of bovine TB in the East and North of the county are appealing to the Department of Agriculture to pump more resources into finding the source.
Currently, 132 herds are restricted in Clare and 150 are subject to a gruelling regime of additional testing under the Department’s High Impact TB Plan. Department figures show that the rate of bTB nationally is just under 3.5% and the county rate here is at 4.2%. Farmers in one part of East Clare, close to Scariff say the incidence is 12.5% while, it’s understood the rate in parts of the Burren is as high as 22.5%.
Brian Geoghan, a dairy farmer from Clounty, Scariff, told The Clare Champion he has lost 43 animals since June and believes the situation locally is at its worse in four decades: “There has been noting like this in my time or my father’s time. There was an outbreak in Whitegate a couple of years ago. There’s no explanation for why the same thing is happening around Scariff now.”
Seán Bugler, from Scariff said that he has lost 38 cattle from his dairy herd since July, and that seven of his neighbours have also fallen victim to the outbreak.
“You spend your life building up your herd and this is just devastating,” he said. “Bovine TB is a recurring problem in certain areas and there seems to be no scientific explanation for that. It’s clear that the eradication programme hasn’t worked.”
Both men believe the spread of TB from the badger population is something the Department needs to address.
“Badgers are protected and the Department is very limited in when it can snare them,” Mr Bugler pointed out. “I would rather see a situation where those resources are targeted in places where the problem is worst.”
Said Mr Geoghan: “The Department’s hands are tied because of animal rights. What I’m wondering, though, is who has the rights – is it wild animals or farm animals?”
In the Burren, according to Michael Davoren a local suckler farmer and member of the IFA’s national animal health committee, bTB is a recurring problem for the last 70 years.
“We have exhausted every option in terms of tests and controls,” he said. “In 11 year’s time, the EU will no longer take our meat if we don’t get our infection rate down.”
Mr Davoren, whose herd is clear of bTB currently, said he believes the disease is endemic in some areas and that a new approach is needed: “If you look at something like MRSA, patients are taken out and the ward is fumigated. We need to look at something like that for bovine TB.”
County IFA Chair Willie Hanrahan agrees that more research on the source of bTB is needed.
“The situation is a huge worry,” he said. “We need to reduce the national rate and we just don’t seem to be able to. Until we get to the source, like any disease, it won’t be eradicated.”
Scariff farmer and former Labour TD Michael McNamara said the situation was causing huge hardship: “Compensation is one thing, but complying with restrictions is a major burden.”
While the science to effectively vaccinate of cattle is only at its early stages, Mr McNamara said he believes it should be developed as an alternative to intensifying testing where rates are high.
According to the Department of Education, the number of herds restricted in Clare has fallen from 145 at the end of September to 132 currently, but dairy farmers say the impact will intensify in Spring.
Said Brian Geoghan: “When the calves arrive and they can’t be sold, that’s when the problems will arise.”