Coronavirus: Minister halts all routine farm inspections

MInister Edwin Poots

ALL routine farm inspections will be paused until 30 April 2020, Minister Edwin Poots has confirmed.

The move comes in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and is part of the wider effort to reduce the spread of the virus.

It also takes pressure off the agri-food sector, which is working extremely hard to ensure the food supply chain keeps moving.

All routine farm inspections in the areas of the Environment, EU Area Based Scheme, Agrifood and Veterinary work, will be paused until 30 April.

However essential inspections such as Public Health Risk Sampling, Brucellosis and bTb Surveillance, will continue where possible.

Minister Poots said: “As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, we need to take every reasonable step to protect our customers. We must assess our current work load and look at what is absolutely critical to keep food moving, protect animal welfare and maintain disease control.

“Pausing routine inspections in the short term is necessary to protect farmers and staff and it ensures we can direct the Department’s resources in the best way. It also minimises disruption and provides certainty for farmers at a very difficult time.

“These are exceptional times and our approach must also be exceptional. We won’t get another chance to flatten the COVID-19 curve – we must get this right, right now. I trust that the farming and environment sectors will welcome this news and we continue to work with our stakeholders.”

Where it has been reported or suspected that there has been, or there is likely to be, potential for a significant impact on public health, animal health or pollution of the environment, the pausing of inspections will not apply. In those cases DAERA staff may undertake site inspections on farms (or elsewhere) to assess and resolve any issues.

Inspections paused:

NIEA

Planned inspections for SMR1 (nitrates and phosphates)
Inspections for SMR2 (Wild Birds) and SMR3 (Semi-natural Habitats)
EU Area Based Schemes Inspections

Rapid Field Visits (RFVs) for the Basic Payment Scheme
Hedge Mitigation inspections
New Business ID inspections
Inspections for the Farm Business Improvement Scheme-Capital Tier 2 grant payments
Veterinary inspections

Routine Inspections –These include animal welfare, cross-compliance, cattle identification inspections, sheep identification inspections and enforcement inspections. The only exceptions would be reactive inspections, if absolutely necessary, to investigate serious animal welfare incidents or serious animal health breaches (for example bovine TB fraud)
Scheduled Official Control inspections

Other Animal Disease Surveillance – including; post import sampling of GB sheep for Maedi-Visna and the scrapie monitoring scheme for sheep
Inspections continuing;

bTB Surveillance – www.daera-ni.gov.uk/news/department-confirms-position-farm-inspections-and-testing

Brucellosis and all suspect epizootic disease cases on farm, such as Foot-and-Mouth, Avian Influenza, Bluetongue etc. will continue to be investigated

Public health risk sampling

Environmental Farming Scheme inspections

The position will be kept under review as the situation develops and a further announcement on routine inspections will be taken by 30 April 2020.

The Department is also considering alternative ways of working, in some cases this could be making greater use of imagery, considering different types of evidence that customers can provide, or to look at options which reduce face to face interaction.

Minister Poots added: “I also want to use the time to identify if there are better and smarter alternative ways of undertaking routine inspections which could also help protect farmers and staff going forward.

“The overall approach and proposals to pause inspections is generally in line and consistent with what is happening in other jurisdictions within the UK, for many of their routine inspection programmes. We will of course keep all these steps under review.”

Health advice and information on government services is available at: www.publichealth.hscni.net/news/covid-19-coronavirus and www.nidirect.gov.uk/coronavirus

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