Defra has confirmed that, from January 1, 2015, all cattle herds in parts of Cheshire falling within the TB edge area would require whole herd testing every six months. The change will apply initially only for 2015.
Defra said increasing the frequency of TB testing in Cheshire would help identify disease sooner and prevent further TB spread. Defra vets hoped it would also make testing more structured than the current regime of radial testing around breakdowns.
The department has also announced cross compliance penalties will be extended to all overdue TB tests from the start of next year.
Cross compliance penalties were introduced in January 2014 for overdue TB surveillance tests, which Defra said had resulted in a 60 per cent drop in late tests.
NFU North West livestock board chairman Bill Mellor, also a member of the Cheshire TB Eradication Group, said the move to six-monthly testing was ‘understandable’ given the large increase in breakdowns this year in the region.
“However, this must be accompanied by testing the wildlife [badgers] in this area as Defra has promised to do, but has not yet implemented.
“For farmers to be penalised for testing a day late infuriates me when Defra is taking many months to set up a survey in wildlife with noting yet in sight.”
A Defra spokesman said a badger survey in the edge area was ‘something we are still considering’. He said it would be a ‘significant piece of research’ if it went ahead.
A relatively small project to test badgers for bTB in Cheshire is currently underway at Liverpool University, with support from the NFU, AHVLA and local wildlife groups.
NFU deputy president Minette Batters said it was crucial TB tests were carried out on time, but stressed the need to ensure farmers were not being penalised when tests were late ‘for reasons beyond their control’, such as no vet being available.
The NFU has raised concerns with the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) about whether it was checking information to see if there were any ‘genuine extenuating circumstances’ linked to late tests.
It also wanted to know whether the RPA was checking with Defra about whether private vets and Animal and Plant Health Agency staff were providing it with this mitigating information.
The latest Defra TB statistics showed: