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Minister Smith to Seek Officially Brucellosis-Free Status for Ireland

Speaking at the Beef Expo in Kilkenny on 12th October, the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Brendan Smith TD, confirmed that he intends to apply to the EU for officially Brucellosis-free status for Ireland next April. "We are in a position to do this because of the dramatic reduction in the incidence of Brucellosis over the past ten years and because there had been no confirmed outbreak of this disease here since April 2006," the Minister said.

Minister Smith said this was a very significant development and was another important measure of the high disease status of our national herd. He added: "This success is due to a number of factors, not least the full cooperation of all stakeholders with the eradication regime, which included comprehensive testing and depopulation arrangements, the tightening up on illegal cattle movements, the regulation of dealers and appropriate follow up of breaches and failures to comply with animal disease and identification regulations."

The Minister acknowledged that the eradication arrangements had been disruptive and costly both to farmers and to the Department, in terms of compensation and the substantial additional costs incurred on testing and other economic losses arising from the premature removal of infected cattle. Minister Smith said he was very conscious of the fact that this disease had caused much distress to the farming sector and, individual farmers, in particular, over the years and he was delighted that the eradication programme had borne fruit. He paid tribute to the work of the Department over the years in its handling of this issue.

Minister Smith said that the eradication of Brucellosis brought considerable Public Health benefits and that the risk of a disease that was once a significant threat to the health of farmers, vets and others in agriculture was now greatly diminished.

Continuing, Minister Smith said that "securing officially brucellosis-free status for Ireland would enable me to reduce some of the control elements of the eradication programme over the coming years with a beneficial impact on farmers, particularly in relation to trade. A gradual reduction in the level of testing would, over time, lead to lower testing costs for farmers. However, we need to take a cautious approach and a controlled reduction in the programme over a period of years, based on risk assessment, following the achievement of disease free status for the country. My Department will engage in consultations with the farm organisations and other stakeholders with a view to settling a roadmap for the scaling down of the programme over the next few years."

Minister Smith said that notwithstanding the current position, it was essential that farmers continue to adopt appropriate replacement policies and effective bio-security measures. He stressed that where farmers had to buy in replacement stock, including young female stock, they should do so only from known sources. He advised that some calves and young female stock can carry Brucellosis without showing any signs and without it showing up in blood tests until they calve or abort later in the herd. Furthermore, farmers should continue to apply sensible bio-security arrangements on their premises and report any abortions to their vet or to the Department. The Minister cautioned that any new outbreaks of the disease between now and April next could jeopardise the attainment of officially-free status.

Concluding, Minister Smith said that he had discussed this issue recently with his counterpart in Northern Ireland, Ms Michelle Gildernew, and he intended to continue to work closely with her as she seeks to reach a similarly favourable situation there over the coming years. "I believe that achieving officially Brucellosis-free status would be landmark in the history of disease eradication in Ireland and I am grateful for the co-operation of all of the parties who had contributed to the success to date. I look forward to a constructive consultation in the near future with the farming organisations and the other stakeholders on the way forward."

Date Released: 12 October 2008