Mr Robin Swann, the North Antrim Ulster Unionist Party MLA, Chief Whip and Stormont Agriculture Committee member, has thrown down a hard-hitting gauntlet to the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) on tackling the threat posed by Bovine Viral Diarrhoea (BVD).
Assemblyman Swann is a former President of the Young Farmers’ Clubs of Ulster and a Past Chairman of the influential Rural Youth Europe organisation.
The challenge to DARD arose when Mr Swann asked the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development in a Stormont question what action her Department is taking to tackle bovine viral diarrhoea.
Assemblyman Swann said: “In her response to me, the Minister said Bovine viral diarrhoea (BVD) is not a statutory disease. Its impacts are primarily felt at farm level, so it is for the industry to take the lead in any initiative to deal with it.
“Therefore, she said she welcomed the fact that there is an increasing desire in the industry to tackle BVD and other conditions that are not subject to statutory control programmes.
“I am also pleased to learn that last month she met industry representatives to discuss their plans for an industry-led organisation to develop and promote control programmes to tackle diseases such as BVD.
“As experience elsewhere has shown, a commitment from industry to funding such initiatives on production diseases will be critical to their sustained success.
“She said she was, therefore, encouraged to hear that the group is securing private investment to support the new approach.
“She was also pleased to hear about the plans to establish formal collaborative links with industry in the South, claiming that taking an all-island approach will definitely help trade right across the island.
“I hope this is a genuine concern by the Minister for our farming sector in Northern Ireland and not the Sinn Fein Minister playing some kind of all Ireland political football with our farmers.
“There is real potential to improve the competitiveness of the sector through tackling these diseases, so she said she was very keen to get the initiative off the ground as soon as possible.
“She added that at last month’s meeting, she agreed, in principle, to match financial contributions committed by industry stakeholders. Obviously, those will have to be subject to an economic appraisal, but, in principle, she said she absolutely agreed with match contributions.
“She assured me her DARD officials have been working closely with industry on the initiative and providing advice. They are also considering whether support could be provided under the training measures in the rural development programme.
“That would help to make farmers aware of the steps that they can take to tackle BVD and the advantages of doing so.
“The Department is also supporting an industry-led BVD research project through the research challenge fund aimed at determining the prevalence of the virus.
“I was pleased to hear her said she looked forward to hearing how the initiative progresses, and the Department will continue to work with the industry.
“I also told the Agriculture Minister that the Scottish authorities are proposing a ban on the sale, or even movement, of persistently infected animals.
“What is your assessment of that proposal? Would you consider bringing in such a ban in Northern Ireland to support the industry, I asked her.
“She told me there has been no call for a ban from the industry, which wants to tackle production diseases and BVD. The working group has done a lot of work over the past number of months.
“The economic benefits of dealing with BVD speak for themselves, and farmers are aware of them. Farmers would very quickly receive payback for the small amount that it would cost for testing.
“She said if we were able to eradicate BVD and take the infected cattle out of the farms, the economic benefits would speak for themselves.
“Stressing there has been no call for a ban, she said the industry wants to tackle the issue and believes that we can do so in a short time frame. This is not a long-term plan; we can tackle it quite quickly she maintained,” said Assemblyman Swann.
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