Agriculture is a very important contributor to the Irish economy. In Ireland, national animal health services have been a government, rather than an industry, responsibility. In 2009, Animal Health Ireland (AHI) was established to provide a partnership approach to national leadership of non-regulatory animal health issues (those not subject to national and/or EU regulation). The objectives of this study were to elicit opinion from experts and farmers about non-regulatory animal health issues facing Irish livestock industries, including prioritisation of animal health issues and identification of opportunities to maximise the effective use of AHI resources. The study was conducted with experts using Policy Delphi methodology over three rounds, and with farmers using a priority identification survey. Non-regulatory bovine diseases/conditions were prioritised by both experts and farmers based on impact and international competitiveness. For each high-priority disease/condition, experts were asked to provide an assessment based on cost, impact, international perception, impediment to international market access and current resource usage effectiveness. Further information was also sought from experts about resource allocation preferences, methods to improve education and coordination, and innovative measures to improve prevention and management. There was close agreement between responses from experts and dairy farmers: each gave highest priority to 3 diseases with a biosecurity risk (subsequently termed 'biosecure diseases') (bovine viral diarrhoea [BVD], infectious bovine rhinotracheitis [IBR], paratuberculosis) and 4 diseases/conditions generally without a biosecurity risk ('non-biosecure diseases/conditions') (fertility, udder health/milk quality, lameness, calf health). Beef farmers also prioritised parasitic conditions and weanling pneumonia. The adverse impact of biosecure diseases is currently considered relatively minor by experts, but would increase substantially in time. There are already substantial costs to farms and agribusiness from non-biosecure diseases/conditions. Experts preferred an equal allocation of resources between these biosecure and non-biosecure diseases/conditions, with emphasis on adopting/adapting international models, education and awareness-raising. The results from this study provide robust insights about non-regulatory animal health priorities in Ireland, as perceived by experts and farmers, using methodologies that are both transparent and inclusive. They have already been extremely influential in shaping national policy, as a foundation for interdisciplinary (and multi-agency) cooperation, as a contribution to efforts to encourage stakeholder responsibility-taking, and to ongoing development of postgraduate and undergraduate veterinary education in Ireland.
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