Spending by the Department of Agriculture on the eradication of tuberculosis (TB) in cattle has been rising but so has the incidence of the disease, according to a new report by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC).

The report says that last year Ireland was the EU member state with the highest levels of bovine tuberculosis.

Meanwhile, EU funding has fallen 66% and will likely be ceased entirely in 2023, according to the report.

The export examined spending in the Department of Agriculture and finds total spending on eradicating TB in cattle has been increasing year on year, but so have disease levels.

In 2015, the spend was €82m but by 2020 it was €97m.

Bovine TB rates have risen from a low of 3.27% to 4.37% in cattle and the report says this increase is a factor in the fall in the proportion of EU funding flowing to Ireland to fight bovine TB.

PAC is concerned by these trends, particularly as bovine TB eradication would appear to be further away than it was in 2016, and notes the department's own projections that €1bn will need to be spent on the bovine TB eradication programme up to 2030 unless disease levels come down.

This will cost taxpayers nearly €600m and farmers €358m.

PAC has called on the department to provide it with an annual update on progress achieved in eradicating the disease by 2030.

PAC chairman Brian Stanley said the Government's bovine TB control scheme is nt working and is costing more money than ever.

The Sinn Féin TD said the scheme is "very important" for farmers and the food industry, but "we're spending more money on a poorer outcome."

Speaking on RTÉ's News at One, Mr Stanley said: "The scheme isn't working as it should be. In 2021 we had the highest levels of bovine TB in our herd in the European Union. It's important we get on top of this from the point of view of protecting farmers and farmers' incomes.

"It's clear that with the escalating costs and a lower contribution from the European Union, the scheme isn't working."

The cost of more than €90 million per year goes on vet fees, scientists monitoring the disease, testing, and more, but it could cost up to €1 billion between now and 2030.

"Farmers and the taxpayer will pay for that and the contribution from the EU is down to 4% now. The fear there is that, as that escalates, the EU contribution towards the scheme will continue to reduce while at the same time the overall cost of the scheme continues to increase, with farmers and taxpayers making up the rest," Mr Stanley said.

He called on the department to provide updates, beginning in 2023, on the progress of the scheme.

"We have to protect our farmers, we have to protect the taxpayer and we have to protect our food industry."

In a statement, the Department of Agriculture this evening said the incidence of bovine TB is now at a historically low level.

While remaining relatively low, the number of new restrictions and reactor numbers did increase somewhat between 2016 and the end of 2020, due to a number of factors including the significant expansion of the dairy herd during that time.

During 2021 and to date in 2022, TB levels have once again stabilised and reduced.

Herd incidence at end of 2021 was 4.33% compared to 4.38% at end of 2020. Herd incidence currently stands at 4.13%.

There are increasing numbers of reactors in some outbreaks in recent months which reinforces the need to both support the TB programme not just financially but also ensure that the objectives of the eradication strategy are implemented in a robust manner.

In 2021, Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue launched a new Bovine TB Eradication Strategy 2021-2030.

Implementation is overseen by the Bovine TB Stakeholders Forum with support from three working groups on science, implementation and finance to ensure that all aspects of the Strategy are addressed.

Mr McConalogue is confident that the building blocks are now in place to lower disease incidence and reduce the challenges associated with a bovine TB restriction.