Testing for bovine Tuberculosis during COVID-19 pandemic

Questions and answers relating to the testing for bovine Tuberculosis during COVID-19 pandemic - updated 20/07/2021

DAERA previously updated its advice on bovine tuberculosis (bTB) testing on 30 March 2020, 9 April 2020, 1 May 2020 and 26 October 2020.

From 16 August 2021, some mitigating measures introduced in spring 2020 to minimise disruption to bTB testing as the result of the Covid-19 pandemic are to end.

Since March 2020 herd keepers have not been referred to the paying agency for overdue bTB tests if they and/or their Private Veterinary Practitioner (PVP) advise DAERA that the test could not be completed by the due date for reasons associated with the Covid-19 pandemic. From 16 August 2021 this measure will no longer apply.

However, normal protocols for managing overdue skin tests include a provision that keepers will not be referred to the paying agencies if DAERA is notified, before a TB test deadline passes, of extenuating circumstances that will prevent a test going ahead.   Extenuating circumstances could include, for example, a requirement for self-isolation due to Covid-19.

In addition, also from 16 August 2021, the exemption from bTB herd tests for calves under 180 days of age will end, while herds that exceed 15 months without a herd test will return to requiring two clear tests to reinstate their Officially Tuberculosis Free status. However calves under 42 days of age will remain exempt from bTB herd tests.  

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?

From 16 August 2021, the temporary exemption from bTB herd tests for calves between 42 and 180 days of age will end. 

Will previously untested calves be tested at a future date?

If there is a herd test due within the next six months the individual calves will have been 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 have been 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. Since 1 December 2020, these restrictions returned to being applied 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?

Since 5 January 2021, herds with a test 37 days overdue have not been permitted to move cattle for direct slaughter. 

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

Since 5 January 2021, herds with a test 37 days overdue have 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?

Since March 2020 herd keepers have not been referred to the paying agency for overdue bTB tests if they and/or their Private Veterinary Practitioner (PVP) advise DAERA that the test could not be completed by the due date for reasons associated with the Covid-19 pandemic. From 16 August 2021, this measure will no longer apply.

However, normal protocols for managing overdue skin tests include a provision that keepers will not be referred to the paying agencies if DAERA is notified, before a TB test deadline passes, of extenuating circumstances that will prevent a test going ahead.   Extenuating circumstances could include, for example, a requirement for self-isolation due to Covid-19.

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?

From 16 August 2021, herds that exceed 15 months without a herd test will return to requiring two clear tests to reinstate their Officially Tuberculosis Free status.

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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