Thursday, 20 October 1977
Dáil Eireann Debate
Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Agriculture (Mr. Hussey): Research and investigation is continually being carried out by my Department's veterinary officers on all aspects of bovine tuberculosis, including the cause of recurrence of the disease in herds which were previously free from it. When results of TB tests are being interpreted, the Department's veterinary inspectors decide, on the basis of the test results, the herd history and any other relevant information, what cases warrant more detailed investigation, for example, where multiple reactors are discovered in a previously clean herd. In all of the problem cases epidemiological investigation is instigated covering the herd history, origin of the reactors, history of contiguous herds and other possible sources of the disease however remote, including infection by humans or by other animals such as pigs, poultry and wildlife. In the course of this detailed and timeconsuming research and investigation the herdowner is advised about cleansing, disinfection, defects in fencing, danger from stagnant pools, and so forth.
Mr. Bermingham: Is the Parliamentary Secretary aware that in several cases that I can quote to him where herds have been free for up to five years and the people concerned have been most careful in their purchase of stock and so forth, they cannot find any reason why stocks have become reinfected. There seems to be no research  and no information available to them as to the cause of this, whether it is wild animals or anything of that nature. Is the Parliamentary Secretary aware that the information available to people in this regard is very limited indeed?
Mr. Hussey: I am aware that herds which had previously been cleared of the disease developed TB again. There are many causes for this, such as the inward movement of cattle. During the period 1975-76 about 10 million cattle changed hands, and this is one of the things that can cause the spread of the disease. There is also the lateral spread from farm to farm, and this can happen of course when cattle mix or even make contact with each other across fences. Wildlife, too, is a potential carrier of the disease, although examinations have proved that this is not the greatest source of infection. In tests carried out in the past few years only five badgers and two deer were found to have TB, so they are not the greatest source of spreading the disease. Infection of cattle by humans is another factor.
Mr. Bermingham: Would the Parliamentary Secretary agree that it is very frustrating for herdowners who have done everything, including keeping their stock indoors over a dangerous period in wild animal life, to find that there is no explanation available to them at all and no help as to what might be the cause of the reinfection?
Mr. Hussey: I agree with the Deputy. It is very frustrating for the farmers concerned, and indeed it is also very frustrating for my Department who have been trying to improve on the testing and clearance of this disease. However, the factors I have mentioned contribute to the spread of the disease and every effort is being made to have it eliminated as soon as possible.
Mr. Bruton: Would the Parliamentary Secretary agree that the non-testing of all potentially infected animals on farms is a possible cause of the spread of infection to other farms, and, furthermore, that if testing  takes place the level of compensation available if some of those animals are found to be reactors acts as a deterrent to farmers to ensure that their cattle are tested?
Mr. Hussey: I am sure the non-testing of animals would be a contributory factor and, as the Deputy knows, no testing has been done for the past two years. I hope the first full round will start early in 1978 and that after that there will be a marked improvement.
Mr. Bruton: Is the Parliamentary Secretary satisfied that the level of compensation for reactors is sufficient to ensure that all animals are brought forward for testing even in the context of the scheme which he mentioned and, if not, would he state when the pledge given by his party to introduce full compensation for reactors in hardship cases will be implemented?
Mr. Clinton: The Parliamentary Secretary in answering supplementaries said that the next round of testing would start early in 1978. I understood that as soon as the first round was finished in September we would be ready to start the second round and that that was agreed with the veterinary profession.
Mr. D'Arcy: Could I go back to the question of the infection? Is the Parliamentary Secretary happy that the present regulations of the Department of Agriculture are adequate, first of all, to find out the cause of TB and, secondly the recurrence of TB, and that those regulations are being carried out by the Department?
Mr. D'Arcy: I am not happy. When there is a high incidence of TB in a herd the amount of inspection from the Department is negligible. All we get is a circular. I would like to ask the Parliamentary Secretary if there are signs of improvement in this connection?
Mr. Hussey: I have already indicated that research on this matter is a continuing process, and I have outlined in my reply to Deputy Bermingham some of the causes of this recurrence of the disease among herds that had already been cleared.
Mr. Cluskey: Would the Parlimentary Secretary not agree that in his initial reply he indicated that there was no satisfactory explanation why the disease should be reintroduced to disease-free heards? If so, would he now undertake to initiate comprehensive research to try to establish the reason for the reintroduction of the disease?
Mr. Hussey: I will undertake to continue the investigation that has been going on and to see if any improvements can be made in the research that is being carried out to find the answers to the questions raised by  the Deputy, and I will certainly encourage the veterinary profession in the Department to carry on whatever research is necessary.
Mr. Cluskey: Obviously the research that is being carried out is not satisfactory because it has not identified the reason for the reintroduction of the disease. Would the Parliamentary Secretary undertake to initiate a more comprehensive form of research into this problem?
Mr. Callanan: Would the Parliamentary Secretary agree that the lack of testing had a bearing on the increase in TB and the hopeless price which was being paid for reactors? Does he agree with the suggestion that the system was wrong—that live cattle were being taken away for nearly nothing?
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