Testing for bovine Tuberculosis during COVID-19 pandemic

Questions and answers relating to the testing for bovine Tuberculosis during COVID-19 pandemic - updated 26/10/2020

DAERA previously updated its advice on bovine tuberculosis (bTB) testing on 30 March 2020, 9 April 2020 and 1 May 2020. 

From 1 December 2020, movement restrictions relating to overdue bTB tests will return to being applied seven days after the test is overdue.  From 5 January 2021 herds with a bTB test that is 37 days overdue will no longer be permitted to purchase new bovines or move cattle to slaughter.  To facilitate social distancing during a bTB test, calves under 180 days of age continue to be temporarily exempt from bTB testing, where testing these bovines cannot take place safely.  

In light of this, 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.   

Frequently asked questions

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

Yes, bTB tests are required to take place. 

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 and the keeper must ensure that compliance with PHA guidance is maintained throughout. (https://www.publichealth.hscni.net/)

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 test them.  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 reason for 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 42-180 days old at the time of the test will be restricted and must be tested before they can be sold. Untested calves < 42 days at the time of the test will not be restricted and can be sold if the herd test is clear.

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 tested 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 bTB 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. From the 1 December 2020, restrictions will apply seven days after the test due date. 

Where herd restrictions do apply, in exceptional circumstances as in the pre-covid arrangement 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?

Cattle can be sold for direct slaughter from herds with overdue tests until the 4 January 2021. From 5 January 2021, herds with a test 37 days overdue will not be permitted to move cattle for direct slaughter. 

Can I purchase cattle if my herd is restricted for an overdue test?

Cattle can be purchased into herds restricted for an overdue test until 4 January 2021.   From 5 January 2021, herds with a test 37 days overdue will not 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 bTB tests if they and/or their PVP advise DAERA that the test could not be completed by the due date 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.

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 or is unable to complete the test within the timeframe required due to the Covid-19 pandemic, a herd keeper can contact his local DAERA Direct office to request the reallocation of the test. 

How do I keep up to date?

Check the news section of the DAERA website on a regular basis - https://www.daera-ni.gov.uk/articles/daera-latest-news

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