Testing for bovine Tuberculosis during COVID-19 pandemic

Questions and answers relating to the testing for bovine Tuberculosis during COVID-19 pandemic - updated 01/05/2020

DAERA previously updated its advice on bovine tuberculosis (bTB) testing on 30 March 2020 and 9 April 2020.   Since then, further feedback has been received from the farming community and veterinarians, while the experiences of bTB testing in other jurisdictions have also been taken into account.  It is evident that the main obstacle to maintaining social distancing during a bTB test has been the handling of younger cattle.  Consequently, the Minister announced on 1 May 2020 that calves under 180 days of age are temporarily exempt from bTB testing, where testing these bovines cannot take place safely.  

In light of this and the introduction of a number of other mitigating measures, the frequently asked questions below have now been updated.  The position regarding bTB testing during the Covid-19 pandemic is being kept under constant review.  Please visit the DAERA website regularly for updates.  

Is bTB testing taking place during the Covid-19 pandemic?

The latest advice is that bTB testing may take place, but only where it can be done safely. The Minister’s announcement that calves under 180 days may be exempt should allow more herd tests to be completed safely in accordance with the latest guidance issued by the Public Health Agency (PHA).

For each arranged test, the testing veterinarian must discuss the conduct of the test with the herd keeper before commencing. If the herd keeper has any doubts or concerns that he/she cannot provide the necessary facilities to maintain social distancing throughout the test, the test should not be undertaken.  If a test commences, the testing veterinarian must ensure that compliance with PHA guidance is maintained throughout.

Are calves under 180 days of age exempt from bTB herd tests?

To enable bTB tests to take place safely in accordance with guidance issued by the Public Health Agency, calves under 180 days of age are temporarily exempt from bTB testing, where testing of these calves cannot take place safely.  If, in the opinion of the testing vet and the herd keeper, a calf under 180 days of age can be tested while maintaining social distancing, this bovine should be tested as normal. 

Calves under 180 days of age in restricted herds will also be exempt in restricted herd tests where it is not safe to do so.  This will be kept under review.   

Why is DAERA allowing calves under 180 days of age to avoid being tested at whole herd tests?

This is being accommodated because of the Covid-19 pandemic and the need to put public health first while ensuring maximum facilitation of the food supply. The position will be reversed as soon as possible.

The decision to exempt calves under 180 days of age from whole herd tuberculin tests is to increase the number of herd tests that can be undertaken safely and thus maximise the number of older animals that are subjected to a tuberculin test during the Covid-19 pandemic while observing the latest public health guidance.

Will I be able to sell/move cattle without a negative bTB test result?

Untested calves will be restricted and must be tested before they can be sold.

Will untested calves be tested at a future date?

If there is a herd test due within the next six months the individual calves will be restricted on farm by way of a BT21 notice and allocated a CTS (check test status) test on APHIS to be subsumed into the next herd test. 

If the next test is an annual herd test, the animals will again be restricted on farm and a CTS test will be allocated on APHIS to the DAERA patch vet, due up to 138 days from the date of the missed herd test. DAERA will only test the untested animals as one complete batch (not as individual animals), although the test of the batch may be completed before the due date at the herd keeper’s request if the animals can all be done safely.

If a herd keeper wishes to test some of them prior to the batch test they can be done as a private check test (PCT) at the herd keeper’s expense. The private test can be done by obtaining authorisation from DAERA.

What happens when my cattle herd is placed under movement restrictions whilst waiting for an overdue TB test to be completed?

Whole herd movement restrictions are automatically placed on cattle herds that become overdue with their TB testing, and their officially TB free status is suspended. This is because once a test becomes overdue, the TB status of the herd is unknown and it is a potential risk to other herds. However, as the result of the Covid-19 pandemic, herd restrictions will not take effect until 35 days after the test has become overdue.

Where herd restrictions do apply, in exceptional circumstances, farmers may apply to DAERA for a licence to move cattle off the holding.

Would the farmer still be able to sell cattle for direct slaughter if their test is overdue?

Yes. Until further notice the farmer should disregard notices that may be or have been sent to them restricting slaughter. We have made adjustments to APHIS to facilitate moves direct to slaughter to keep the food supply moving.

My herd has been restricted as the result of an overdue bTB test and I have been told I cannot purchase cattle.  Will these changes mean I am now able to purchase cattle?

Yes.  As a temporary measure, herds with an overdue herd test will still be permitted to purchase cattle.

What can I do during the Covid-19 pandemic to minimise the risk of my herd going down with bovine TB?

Follow all the normal rules about biosecurity and avoid buying in unless you are confident the seller’s herd is TB free.

I have been permitted by DAERA to move a bovine from my restricted herd to a TB restricted herd.  Will my herd automatically be associated with this herd?

No, DAERA accepts on a temporary basis that there will be no automatic association of two herds, provided the movement is in one direction on welfare grounds.

Will cross compliance penalties be imposed if the test is overdue and cannot take place?

Until further advised, keepers will not be referred to the paying agency for overdue TB tests if they and/or their PVP advise DAERA that the test could not be completed during the testing window for reasons associated with the Covid-19 pandemic.

As the result of Covid-19, my bTB annual herd test is now 15 months overdue.  Will I require two clear tests before herd restrictions are removed?

No, if a herd test is overdue for 15 months as the result of a Covid-19 reason, a second test will not be required.

I have already received a BT25b notice informing me that my test is overdue and that I can no longer slaughter and purchase animals. What does this mean?

As the result of the Covid-19 pandemic, herd restrictions are not being applied until 35 days after the test has become overdue, and an advisory letter and a BT25a restriction notice will issue. These had previously been issued at 7 days after the due date. Further herd restrictions (ie restriction on purchase and slaughter) were applied after 37 days following the test due date, and a BT25b notice being issued to enforce these. As the recent amendments allow purchase and slaughter for all herds with overdue tests, these BT25b restriction notices will no longer be issued. If you have already received one, it can be disregarded.  

When will the DAERA guidance on bTB testing during the Covid-19 pandemic be reviewed?

The position regarding bTB testing during the Covid-19 pandemic is being kept under review taking into account feedback from herd owners, vets and the experiences of other jurisdictions.  However, the DAERA position will continue to be primarily based on the advice of the Public Health Agency.

Can I change PVP during the current situation?

Normally, a change of PVP will not be permitted when the next test has already been allocated. However, if a practice is not undertaking any bTB testing during the Covid-19 pandemic, a herd keeper can contact his local DAERA Direct office to request the reallocation of the test. 

Outside of testing windows, a nominated PVP can still be changed as normal.  

How do I keep up to date?

Check the news section of the DAERA website on a regular basis:

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