Farmers have urged Government to halt plans to continue the statutory requirement of bovine TB testing for cattle, in light of the on-going Covid-19 pandemic.
It comes after the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) announced farms that did not complete bTB tests in their allocated testing window during the lockdown were to be placed under movement restriction, despite officials admitting delays to some herd testing was now ‘inevitable’.
This means restrictions will be applied to farms that do not complete their test in their defined window and their Officially TB Free (OTF) status will be withdrawn.
One dairy farmer, who did not want to be named, warned the requirement enforced by Defra ignored the Government’s measures on social distancing and therefore claimed testing must be ‘put on hold’.
“Defra is forcing us to carry on TB testing and it is a crazy situation.
“We have to test in close proximity to a vet and that could lead the farmer to get coronavirus, and who will help ensure the milk is produced then?" the farmer said.
A Newark mixed farmer, who also wished to remain anonymous, echoed this saying: “I am confined to my home for 12 weeks but we are expected to let a vet, who will have been on many farms and mixed with many people, on to our farm to test cattle.
“We will also have to let neighbours on as extra help is needed.”
She also highlighted ‘harsh’ herd restrictions incurred as a penalty on farmers who failed to meet testing deadlines meant she would now be ‘unable’ to turn out to her summer grazing or sell cattle as it was away from her holding.
Lancashire beef farmer William Hickson said he had managed to defer his test.
“I have a heart condition and I am therefore classified as vulnerable under Government guidelines, yet I was expected to present my cattle for testing, which would involve being in close proximity with at least three other people," he added.
“Without placing pressure on a Defra officer, the testing would have taken place.”
Despite concerns, the APHA is contingency planning for reduced veterinary capacity, to ensure statutory bTB testing can be carried out and has issued new guidelines to protect farmers, staff and vets during the coronavirus crisis.
In a statement, an APHA spokesperson said flexibility to ensure the ‘best decisions you can make under the circumstances’ was necessary but warned the situation must not affect disease control.
The spokesperson added: “It is recognised that each situation will be different and while most will be resolved by sensible discussion between the official veterinarian and the owner, there are likely to be cases that are more difficult to resolve.
“In this case, advice should be sort from senior staff in APHA or Veterinary Delivery Partners (VDP).”
To access more information and advice on TB testing requirements during the pandemic, visit: TBhub.