14 May 1999

Court to decide on TB claim allegation

AN Irish farmer is to be prosecuted for allegedly injecting his cattle with slurry, so that it would appear they had bovine tuberculosis and he could claim compensation.

The scam came to light as a result of an undercover operation by a Department of Agriculture special investigation unit. Investigators kept the mans west Cork farm under surveillance because of suspicions that animals were being infected deliberately.

According to department sources, police were called when the man – who has not been named pending the court hearing – was allegedly seen injecting the cattle from a bucket of slurry. Such injections, they said, would produce lumps and lesions similar to those of animals with TB.

The motivation is believed to be financial. With market prices still depressed, the farmer stood to benefit significantly if his herd had to be destroyed. Compensation payments go as high as £600 for a dairy cow, plus a £45-a-month allowance when a herd has been slaughtered.

But now the farmer is facing prosecution. And investigators are looking again at other herds in the area which have failed TB tests.

A department spokesman said the number of confirmed reactors last year was 44,498, compared with 28,648 for the previous 12 months.

There was "no simple explanation" for the big increase, which was causing concern, he said. But testing and surveillance were being intensified and it was as a result of this increased activity that the west Cork case had been discovered.

The Irish Veterinary Union is seeking a meeting with the department to press for stricter testing to counter the upsurge in the disease.

Its president, Paschal Gibbons, called for the reintroduction of mandatory testing before cattle are allowed to be moved from a farm for sale. The 30-day pre-movement test was abolished four years ago. Now farmers are required to have their animals tested just once a year.

"The abolition of the pre-movement test, against veterinary advice and against the will of many farmers, has undoubtedly contributed to the significant increase in TB and brucellosis in cattle in the last two years," said Mr Gibbons.