Tuesday, 28 February 1989
Dáil Éireann Debate
Mr. O'Kennedy: The Director of ERAD has informed me that while the terminology used to date to express disease levels has been strictly in accordance with normal epidemiological procedures its complexities have given rise to a certain amount of misunderstanding. The various procedures for reporting disease levels are currently being reviewed by ERAD with a view to establishing an appropriate and clearly understood measurement for monitoring the progress of the current round.
Mrs. Doyle: I note that the language used by the Minister, and the euphemism, has given rise to a misunderstanding. Therein speaks an awful lot but we will not go through that now. Could the Minister indicate, as I feel he knows a little bit more than what he is telling me, which of the four sets of figures, the level of incidence or prevalence, the number of  animals per thousand or the level of disease as measured by the number of reactors divided by the number of cattle, will we be talking about and will we be able to make a comparative analysis to enable us to know whether the new ERAD programme is being effective in eradicating the disease?
Mr. O'Kennedy: First, I have to admit that the Deputy appears to have a keen enough knowledge of the methods of measurement used. As the Deputy knows, ERAD are carrying out a review to draw up the most appropriate method of disease measurement in which we all have a common interest. As the Deputy has quite rightly pointed out, there are two different methods. The level of incidence is measured by the total number of new cases identified during a specified testing period.
Mr. O'Kennedy: The other method of measurement is the level of prevalence and as it happens both of these methods have their deficiencies and we acknowledge this. Comparisons based on year by year figures are inaccurate regardless of what method of measurement is used. It is for that reason that I have asked ERAD to undertake this review so as to draw up proper standards against which guaranteed and reliable measurement can be made when comparing the figures for one year against another
Mrs. Doyle: Finally, can the Minister tell me if I am correct in taking from his replies, that as of now, with the new ERAD programme under way, there is no agreed method for the measurement of the level of tuberculosis in our cattle and that we do not know in what way the figure for the number of reactors will be expressed?
Mr. O'Kennedy: There is an agreed method. When I gave ERAD this  responsibility to introduce a comprehensive programme, according to strict criteria, I acknowledged then, as the Deputy has pointed out, that this test is not satisfactory. It was for that reason that I asked them to take a look at it. I am not going to tell the Deputy that what is there now is entirely reliable. I acknowledge there is some basis to her question and I hope shortly, as a consequence of the examination ERAD are conducting into the most appropriate method of disease measurement, that we will have a more reliable test.
Mrs. Doyle: In other words the practice of the Department of Agriculture and Food during the years of reporting in some years the incidence of the disease and in others the prevalence of the disease has now been deemed to be totally unsatisfactory and we may look forward to a new method of measuring the level of TB in our cattle herd. My interest in this matter goes back to 1984 when I spoke at length on this matter. It was not born in recent times.
Mr. O'Kennedy: The Deputy will appreciate that whatever else I am responsible for, I am not responsible for the practice in the Department of Agriculture and Food during the years, without saying whether that is good or bad.
Mr. O'Kennedy: What I do have responsibility for is what I have now put in place. I have acknowledged that there is some basis to the Deputy's question but I have reassured her equally, I hope, that ERAD are looking at that very issue with a view to drawing up a reliable method of measurement of the level of the disease. This year we are undertaking the most comprehensive testing programme we have ever carried out, involving 11 million animals, and for that reason it is important that we have a reliable and consistent method of measurement.
Mrs. Doyle: On a point of order, I had tabled another priority question in relation to beef prices. Indeed the information given to Deputy Gibbons was exactly the information I was trying to elicit but you ruled my question out of order though you allowed two other Deputies to ask questions.
Mr. Gibbons: I also tabled a question in relation to ERAD but for some peculiar reason I have received no explanation as to why it was disallowed or as to why it is not on the Order Paper. I would like the Ceann Comhairle to investigate the matter.
Mr. O'Kennedy: Let me put it on the record that far from embarrassing the Minister I would welcome answering those questions but I was not even made aware that those questions were tabled. I wish, therefore, that Deputy Farrelly would acknowledge that that is not the kind of old innuendo we want in this House. I had no knowledge of them.
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