Stormont department pays out £37m in compensation following Bovine TB outbreak

Stormont's Agriculture department has paid out more than £37million in compensation in the last financial year due to a Bovine TB outbreak which forced many farms to shut.

Figures exclusively obtained by UTV show that the amount of compensation given out over the past three financial years has also increased year-on-year.

The disease has led to more than 20,000 cattle being slaughtered after an initial detection of the respiratory disease.

Bovine TB is found in cattle and can be transferred from animal to animal. In particular, badgers are major carriers of the disease.

The outbreak led to the Department for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) announcing a limited cull on the animals in March last year. It was announced as part of a Bovine TB strategy in a bid to eradicate the disease.

The move was widely criticised by wildlife organisations and campaigners.

The compensation total is a number that has been increasing over the last three years. In the 2020/2021 financial year £22,319,474.12m was paid out compared to the £37m in 2022/2023.

Sam Hanna runs a farm in Ballygowan, Co Down.

He lost more than 50 of his cattle after some were detected as potentially having the disease.

"In our annual herd test last year we had reactors in the test which left us closed, (we) weren't able to sell animals," he told UTV.

"Over the seven tests we had done, nearly 50 animals were classed as reactors to the test. Not necessarily having TB but were taken as suspected with TB."

He claims that when postmortems of the deceased cattle came back, little more than half showed signs of the disease.

Sam added that the current testing methods are 'not fit for purpose'.

"We can talk about wildlife and cross-contamination (from wildlife) but unless your going to tackle the problem straight on (with) a better test for the animals, there's no way we can eradicate it or even get close to getting it under control."

Ulster Wildlife said that more thorough testing is required and badger culling should not be the primary choice in getting rid of Bovine TV.

"Testing can be more intensive and more accurate, which will result in more cattle coming out of the food chain but will result in fewer positive tests ongoing," said Peter McEvoy from the organisation.

In response a spokesperson for DAERA said: "Working groups have been established to take forward the remaining 15 actions, including enhanced biosecurity advice and the expanded use of gamma interferon blood sampling, are advancing. Some of the actions require legislation and some are medium term objectives.

"The action relating to badger intervention has been subject to a legal challenge by two environmental groups. A judicial review hearing took place in November 2022 and an outcome is awaited.

"While the proposed intervention to tackle TB in badgers here is expected to be a valuable additional tool in controlling the disease, the Department continues to urge all herd owners to keep their biosecurity and purchasing practices under review to help reduce the risk of disease spread."

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