The Department has also confirmed the move to routine six-monthly testing for all herds in the part of Cheshire falling within the TB Edge Area.
At the start of this year, Defra introduced cross compliance penalties for overdue TB surveillance tests, which it said had resulted in a drop of around 60 per cent in late tests.
From 1 January 2015, these penalties will be extended so that anyone who fails to meet their testing deadline will face a loss of part of their new Basic Payment via cross compliance fines.
The move to six-monthly testing in Cheshire was unofficially announced by Malla Hovi, head of veterinary advice at the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA), at a recent conference on TB, staged by the NFU.
Confirming the change on Friday, Defra said all cattle herds in the part of Cheshire that falls within the TB Edge Area will require whole herd testing every six months.
It said increasing the frequency of TB testing for herds in Cheshire, which will apply initially only for 2015, is being done to make testing in the area more structured. Defra vets believe six-monthly testing will help to identify disease sooner and prevent further TB spread within and beyond Cheshire.
Farming Minister George Eustice said: “Improving cattle movement controls and the effectiveness of testing is an important part of our strategy to eradicate bTB in England.
“Cheshire is an area of the country where bovine TB is spreading so we will introduce six monthly surveillance tests to help us keep ahead of the disease. We will also extend our approach to ensuring that testing takes place in a timely way.”
Ms Hovi said in November the change had been discussed with the Cheshire TB Eradication group, although one its members, farmer Bill Mellor, said he was unaware the change was being brought in.
NFU deputy president,Minette Batters said: “It is crucial for disease control that TB tests are carried out on time and the vast majority of farmers are already doing this.”
But she said it was important farmers were not being penalised when tests were late through not fault of theirs.
“While control of this disease is absolutely essential, this shouldn’t be used as a blunt instrument where farmers have arranged to get a test done on time but have been unable to do so for reasons beyond their control, like no vet being available or a vet cancelling an appointment.
“We have raised concerns with the RPA about whether they are actually checking the information linked to late tests to see if there are any genuine extenuating circumstances or simply fining all farmers who are late with a test.
“We have also raised concerns with Defra about whether veterinary practices and APHA staff are providing the RPA with mitigating information in cases where there has been a genuine reason for a delayed test which was beyond the farmer’s control.
“On those occasions when farmers are unable to get tests done on time for legitimate reasons it is vital that they work with the APHA to make them aware of their situation as soon as they can and to arrange a test as quickly as possible.”