From April 6, new TB cattle controls will come into place across England.
According to Farming Minister George the cattle will ’help protect against cattle-to-cattle transmission and bring the Low Risk Area closer to achieving TB freedom’.
But while the industry welcomes extra protection from disease spread continues to support England’s TB Eradication Strategy, with its dual focus on cattle and badger controls, there are concerns the measures could impose huge burdens on some farmers.
From April 6, farmers in England’s Low-Risk Area (LRA) will need to arrange post-movement testing of cattle coming from the Edge and High-Risk Areas (HRA) of England and from Wales.
There are exemptions, including:
To find out more see Defra’s TB Hub
Defra comment: “We are on track for the LRA to be declared officially TB-free by 2019. With more than half of new bTB infections in the LRA clearly linked to cattle purchased from HRAs, this will provide greater confidence the LRA can become and remain officially TB-free.”
Industry comment: Catherine McLaughlin, the NFU’s chief animal health and welfare adviser, said the policy would be welcomed by farmers in the LRA who had been frustrated by the lack of progress on this issue.
She urged Defra to ‘fully communicate’ details of the change to farmers and said it was essential sellers helped livestock marts by providing clear and accurate information on the last test date.
Chris Dodds, executive secretary of the Livestock Auctioneers Association (LAA), warned the policy would hurt cattle sellers in the LRA and HRA.
He stressed LAA supported the drive to eradicate bTB, but said the cost of post-movement testing would deter traders bringing cattle from various locations into the LRA onto one of their holdings before selling them on within the LRA. He said this would put a brake on stock coming into the LRA.
He said these agents would already be on one-year testing and posed minimal TB risk, yet rules were harsher than in Scotland, where cattle can be moved on within 120 days as long as they are then retested on the destination holding.
The rules also mean big feeding units which bought cattle in autumn and grazed them on one holding would not be able to move them to housing indoors in poor weather for up to 120 days, if the holding number was different, he added.
Mr Dodds said: “I am concerned it is going to create a two- or three-tier market, where people in the HRA or Edge Area, who have never had TB, will become second-rate citizens because of where they farm, not because of the health status of the farm or their animals.
“I want to keep TB out of northern England. But I do not want to crucify our industry in trying to keep out a tiny proportion of outbreaks as a result of movements.”
Currently only one test is needed to go clear in the HRA where cattle show no visible lesions and show negative laboratory culture results.
To find out more see Defra's TB Hub
Defra comment: “This will increase chances of finding all infected animals in those herds, helping to reduce recurrent breakdowns and to protect other herds.”
Industry comment: But Ms McLaughlin said the NFU was ‘disappointed’ Defra was pressing ahead with the requirement.
She said: “There is a real concern this measure could restrict and curtail trade to unsustainable levels.”
Other measures will come into force next week.
From April 6, free pre-sale TB tests will be available to herd owners in the LRA selling 20 or more cattle in a single purchase.
Defra comment: “This will enable sellers to provide additional assurance for buyers and mitigate the low risk of undetected TB spreading to new herds.”
"This new TB whole herd pre-sale test supports the TB strategy in the Low Risk Area in England by addressing the specific TB risk and possible impact on receiving farms posed by sales of cattle from herds that have not been recently tested."
Industry comment: Ms Mclaughlin said the NFU had held regular discussions with Defra over the criteria and viability of a scheme designed to contain the risks from dispersal sales and other cattle sales from the LRA.
She said: “We support the introduction of free, voluntary pre-sale TB testing, and will continue to work with Defra to ensure this is a meaningful and useful pilot.”
To find out more see Defra's TB hub
From April 6, the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) will start offering the option of private Interferon Gamma blood tests to diagnose TB under certain conditions.
Defra comment: "We are minded to introduce private IFN-γ testing in pre-prescribed circumstances, as outlined in the consultation. All private IFN- γ tests would need to be approved by APHA."
Industry comment: Ms McLaughlin said: “While we are generally supportive of private Gamma Interferon blood tests being available, we do have concerns about the potential additional costs to farmers and about whether there is laboratory capacity to cope.”
Defra is looking to phase out Approved Finishing Units (AFUs) with non-contiguous grazing and has sent out letters to affected farmers saying their units will be put under review.
Defra comment: "On the basis of clear veterinary advice, the limited number of AFUs with noncontiguous grazing and the opportunity for those affected to reconfigure their Units, the government’s view is that AFUs should normally consist only of contiguous land.
"We will work with the owners of the small number of existing AFU with non-contiguous grazing to consider how they can transition from their current state."
Industry comment: Ms McLaughlin questioned whether the move was proportionate.
She said: “The NFU believes that grazed AFUs are an essential element in maintaining a viable livestock industry by providing a vital outlet for TB restricted cattle.
“To restrict their operation so they only include contiguous parcels of grazing land will cause economic, welfare and trade issues.
“Grazed AFUs are subject to rigorous controls and, assuming that these are kept in place - including the onerous fencing and biosecurity requirements, and the statutory 90-day testing –we question whether they pose an increased bTB risk.
"We continue to speak to Defra about the need for this measure and what assessment criteria will be used.”
In Wales, on April 1 the new TB Order will come into force changing the way farmers are compensated for cattle slaughtered for TB.
The changes provide the Welsh Government further powers to reduce compensation by up to 95 per cent where a person has not followed the rules on testing and cattle movements.
Compensation will also be reduced, by 50 per cent, where an animal has been slaughtered because of TB after it had been brought in, under licence, to a restricted herd.
Cattle keepers will always be paid the slaughter value of the animal as a minimum and payments will be capped at £15,000 per animal.
The changes are intended to reduce the risk of the disease spreading by encouraging best practice and follows a consultation with the industry.
Deputy Food and Farming Minister Rebecca Evans said: “These changes will penalise a minority of cattle keepers who undertake risky practices, such as failing to present cattle for testing, valuation or removal, which can contribute to the spread of TB."
Other situations where compensation could be reduced include:
To see more details, click here
Industry comment: Welsh farming unions have criticised the policy.
NFU Cymru warned reducing compensation when an animal has been lawfully brought into a herd was ‘hugely draconian’ and said it must be accompanied by greater flexibility in the rules governing licensed movements.
The Farmers Union of Wales said the proposal could place farmers ’adhering to the conditions of an already restrictive licence in an untenable position financially’.
Also launching on April 1 is www.ibTB.co.uk, a new website which provides information on locations of TB breakdowns in Wales.