The Government has confirmed that farmers who have managed to stay clear of bovine TB for at least six years will be able to revert to annual, rather than six-monthly, testing.
This will reduce the testing burden on these lower-risk farms and incentivise other farms to take steps, to reduce their TB risks. The change will come into effect in May 2019 and will apply to farmers in parts of the bovine TB Edge Area.
The six-monthly testing also applies to farmers who have achieved Cattle Health Certification Standards (CHeCS) TB accreditation of their herds.
Farming Minister, Minister Eustice, said:
"Bovine TB remains the greatest animal health threat to the UK, causing devastation and distress for hard-working farmers and rural communities.
"By allowing these lower risk herds to revert to annual testing we want to encourage other farmers to take steps to reduce the risks of bovine TB.
"From stringent biosecurity to the application of risk-based trading principles, farmers need to be doing everything they can to stop this disease spreading. As a Government we will also continue to robustly apply a range of interventions, including cattle movement controls, increased and better TB testing and licensed badger control in certain areas."
Defra and the Welsh Government have also today published a joint report setting out recent progress and next steps on improving on-farm biosecurity – a key focus of the recent report by Sir Charles Godfray on the Government’s bTB strategy.
This report sets out a new programme of action designed to increase farmers’ resilience to bovine TB, including a £25,000 investment to improve the TB Hub website – the central hub for information on the disease.
Stuart Roberts, NFU Vice President, said: “The Chief Vet has reiterated that the original cull areas are starting to see the disease control benefits of culling, with the number of new confirmed cattle breakdowns dropping by around 50 per cent, and has said the areas that continued culling this year will see the benefits of reduced disease in cattle over their four-year cull period.
“Natural England’s Chief Scientist has concluded that this year’s new areas have conducted effective culls and said that the outcome of this year’s operations shows industry-led culling continues to deliver the level of effectiveness needed to be confident of achieving disease control benefits.
“The change to annual TB testing from May next year for farms in the edge area that have been TB free for at least six years will be welcomed by those farmers whose herds haven’t suffered a TB breakdown for a significant time, if ever. But it is important that the policy conditions around earned recognition don’t create unfair trading environments which penalise farmers who are already struggling with bTB.
“Farmers across the country are already taking a range of steps to protect their businesses from this disease, through measures such as securing feed stores, double fencing fields to stop nose-to-nose contact with cattle on adjoining farms, and preventing wildlife accessing buildings. Many of these measures have additional benefits in terms of minimising the risk of other cattle diseases. The key for farmers is which biosecurity measures bring the greatest disease control benefits.
“We understand that Defra is planning to launch a bTB farm practices survey in the New Year to gain a better understanding of on-farm practices. We will be looking at exactly how and what they plan to do."
Last year more than 33,000 cattle were slaughtered in England because of bovine TB and more than 3,800 farms that had been clear of the disease were affected by it.