NI farm leaders condemn plans to cut TB compensation rates

Farm leaders in Northern Ireland have criticised their government’s plans to reduce compensation rates for cattle with bovine TB.

The Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (Daera) published an eight-week public consultation on the subject on Friday 12 January.

It contains one question: “Do you agree that public expenditure savings should be made by reducing the compensation rate for animals removed under the bTB programme?”

See also: High Court judge rejects plans for Northern Ireland badger cull

At the moment, cattle farmers are compensated on a full market value basis for each condemned animal.

Daera’s consultation asked whether payments should be reduced on a phased basis, which would see the amount paid reduced to 90% in year one of implementation, falling to 75% of the value in year two.

In the 2022-23 financial year, compensation payments made up £38m of the £53m total cost. In the face of other financial pressures, Daera says these costs cannot be sustained.

Commenting on the proposals in the consultation, the Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) said they marked “a new low point” for farmers and, if implemented, will reduce the payments farmers receive for cattle that react to a TB test.

UFU president David Brown said: “Farmers already bear a loss of income from those animals that are removed when bTB positive. A reduction in stock value will mean our members will not be fully reimbursed for the worth of their animals.”  

The union said Daera had failed to deliver a wildlife intervention programme, which included the culling of badgers, that has been an “integral component in reducing infection levels in other jurisdictions”.

Badger cull quashed

Last October, a High Court judge quashed Daera plans for a badger cull in Northern Ireland on the basis that it had failed to conduct a “fair and lawful consultation”, following a legal challenge by the NI Badger Group and Wild Justice.

Mr Brown said Daera’s consultation proposals threaten the future of any farm that becomes infected with bovine TB. He urged anyone who is interested in NI’s food security to respond to this consultation as a “top priority”.

The UFU says it is seeking legal advice and will be taking every step to stop this proposal in its tracks.