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By Georgina Mills
Calves under 180 days old can be excluded from bovine TB (bTB) testing in England and Wales if, in the vet’s judgement, they cannot be tested safely in line with Covid-19 social distancing.
This temporary amendment to bTB testing requirements, which was announced by the APHA on 4 May, will be applied retrospectively to incomplete tests where the final part of the test would have commenced on or after 23 March, and to any qualifying tests from now until further notice.
No movement restrictions will be placed on herds that do not test calves as long as the other eligible (older) animals in the herd are negative for the bTB test. Any calves that cannot be tested safely at this time will be left untested until the next bTB test of the herd.
The APHA says the decision will be kept under regular review while the social distancing measures related to the Covid-19 outbreak are in place.
Where social distancing measures can be met in routine or targeted herd surveillance tests, calves aged 42 days and over should still be tested. Skin testing will also be mandatory in some circumstances (see box).
Calves aged under 42 days do not require testing.
The APHA said that while a small number of bTB-infected herds may not be detected if youngstock are not tested, there is also a risk that farmers may choose not to test at all if they are going to be put under restrictions because their youngstock cannot be tested safely. This could lead to infected animals and breakdowns remaining undetected, with potential further spread within the herd, and to other herds and local wildlife. The temporary amendment would help to encourage the continued bTB testing of most animals, it said.
The BVA and the British Cattle Veterinary Association (BCVA) welcomed the announcement.
We are extremely pleased to see this pragmatic approach to bTB testing rules
BVA junior vice president James Russell said: ‘We are extremely pleased to see this pragmatic approach to bTB testing rules following urgent representations to the government by the veterinary profession.
‘While we recognise that it will have some effect on the overall interpretation of the bTB status of herds, the amendment provides a risk-based approach that prioritises human safety and public health while allowing vets and farmers to continue vital animal health work during the Covid-19 restrictions.
‘From a longer-term perspective, it will help vets maintain the food supply chain by controlling bTB through statutory controls.’
BCVA president Nikki Hopkins said: ‘We acknowledged early on that there would be far-reaching, unintended consequences of ceasing testing altogether, and for an unknown length of time.
‘We are pleased that APHA’s own evidence along with the experience of our members has shown a need to be pragmatic and flexible about bTB testing under the current restrictions.’
In Northern Ireland, the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs has introduced similar measures.
Calves under 180 days old are exempt from all bTB tests if they cannot be tested in accordance with public health guidance. Herds with clear tests will retain or regain their officially TB-free status and can trade freely, with the exception of untested calves aged between 42 and 180 days. The untested calves will be restricted and cannot be traded until they can be tested safely and have a negative result.
Calves will still require testing:
In herds undergoing short interval or check testing due to a bovine TB (bTB) breakdown;
If they are intended for export;
If they are identified by the APHA as tracings to or from a bTB breakdown herd;
If they had been identified as inconclusive reactors and were awaiting a skin retest;
If they are being moved off a holding and that movement normally requires premovement bTB testing;
If the animals require postmovement bTB testing after moving to holdings in Scotland, the low-risk area in England or low bTB area in Wales from a holding in an area of higher bTB incidence.
In Scotland, normal bTB testing procedures for calves still apply.
All the devolved administrations in the UK have been advised that bTB testing should only continue if it can be done safely in accordance with current Covid-19 public health guidance. ●
• The BCVA has created a decision-making tool to assist farm vets in England and Wales when approaching each bTB test scenario. It can be found at https://bit.ly/2L4b4Kq (England) and https://bit.ly/3diuV4C (Wales).
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