TB testing© Tim Scrivener

The National Beef Association has urged Defra to rethink new bovine TB regulations that are adding unnecessary pressure to already beleaguered finishing units inside cull zones.

The NBA has set out its key concerns and a set of practical solutions in a petitioning letter to Defra that it has asked members to sign.

The concerns include:

  • Rule changes imposed after contracts with Natural England had been agreed
  • Introduction of gamma interferon tests
  • Phasing out of cull zone approved finishing units (AFUs)
  • Whole-unit, 60-day stock buying bans for reactor farms
  • Calf sourcing for isolation farms that replaced quarantine units

West Country beef farmer and NBA TB committee chairman Bill Harper said it was “morally and technically wrong” for Defra to have introduced rules without prior notice after cull zone agreements had been signed.

See also: Bovine TB articles 

Cull zone AFUs

Speaking at the Beef Expo, Mr Harper said the phasing out of AFUs inside cull zones was one such example.

These units provide a route for rearing or finishing cattle from TB-restricted and unrestricted farms and had been a cashflow lifeline for businesses, he said.

“However, without warning, Defra said cull zone AFUs would be phased out once culling had ceased,” said Mr Harper.

“Although the NBA has won a 24-month reprieve for these AFUs, we object to the rule being introduced after Natural England contracts were signed,” he said.

Gamma interferon test

The gamma interferon test for TB in live cattle was also imposed after contracts had been agreed and the NBA wants it removed.

The test is in addition to existing blood testing and has been causing problems because of its higher sensitivity.
It can react to other infections and farmers have seen huge numbers of TB-free animals being taken and culled unnecessarily.

Reactors

The NBA also called for a rethink on stringent rules on reactors.

A single reactor now means an entire holding is banned from buying stock for 60 days.

“This is a huge problem for buyers who rely on a steady weekly stream of cattle to keep the business operating,” said Mr Harper.

“Instead, we would like to see Defra vets isolate and test affected animals and allow the rest of the farm to keep trading.”

Isolation units

A further issue concerns calf supply to isolation units. These replaced approved quarantine units that took calves from TB-restricted farms and tested them prior to sale, providing an important outlet.

The isolation unit has a similar role, but is only permitted to take calves from a single-source farm. This limits calf numbers to a level that is not cost-effective.

“All we are asking here is that Defra considers allowing three to four source farms with batches of 20-30 to provide the isolation unit with more viable batches of about 100,” Mr Harper said.

The proposal

The NBA is asking members to sign copies of the letter which includes a three-point proposal of amendments to the new rules, urging Defra to think again.

  1. Whole farm, 60-day buying ban A return to the previous system on reactor farms where a senior Defra vet sanctioned the isolation and testing of animals but allowed the rest of the farm to keep trading
  2. Rule changes after contracts have been signed Cattle finishers that sign up to cull zones should not see rule changes made after they have signed a contract with Natural England
  3. Multiple-unit supply for isolation units A minor change to rules to allow calves from three or four farms to go to the same isolation unit