Cattle farmers should not have to pay towards bovine TB testing costs if they want to keep using their own local vets, the NFU insists.
Currently, on-farm TB testing is done by vets working for private businesses, who are trained, appointed and paid by the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) to carry out the work.
But from 1 May this year, the APHA will manage TB testing in England and Wales through seven regional suppliers.
The Defra agency confirmed the award of TB testing contracts to suppliers, known as “delivery partners”, across five regions covering England on Monday (16 February).
“It is vital the new delivery partners maintain local service delivery so farmers can continue to use their own vets without having to pay towards the testing costs.”
Minette Batters, NFU
Veterinary company XL Farmcare was awarded all five contracts on a three-year term after rival company Xperior Farm Health withdrew its legal challenge after it lost out in the tendering process.
Each of the five successful bidders is a distinct business entity, consisting of a consortium of different practices within the particular region. They will allocate testing work through a network of eligible veterinary businesses.
Farmers and livestock keepers will continue to be responsible for ensuring TB testing is completed on time. But in future, they will need to contact regional suppliers to make arrangements.
Delivery partners will then be responsible for allocating the actual testing activity through their network of practices.
When making arrangements, farmers can express a preference to use a specific veterinary practice from within the delivery partners’ network to undertake the testing. The APHA said this preference would be honoured, where possible.
But the APHA said farmers who would prefer to use a practice that is not part of the government’s delivery partners network would have to pay for the testing privately.
NFU deputy president Minette Batters said livestock farmers were concerned about the implications of the changes.
“It is vital the new delivery partners maintain local service delivery so farmers can continue to use their own vets without having to pay towards the testing costs,” she added.
“The long-term relationships farmers build with their vets are hugely important for all aspects of animal welfare, especially regarding bovine TB.
“These vets have often worked closely with farmers for many years, building up trust, knowledge of the farmer’s business and a working relationship that allows them to have informed and detailed discussions about how best to keep TB, and other diseases, out of their herds.”
John Blackwell, president of the British Veterinary Association (BVA), said: “It is essential that local vets in England continue to play an important role in critical disease testing, such as bovine TB, and other official veterinarian services and we will expect the delivery partners to use the existing networks of local veterinary practices.”
APHA veterinary director Simon Hall said testing would continue to be performed by fully qualified vets and the APHA will carry on working in close partnership with the veterinary profession.
He added: “Local veterinary practices have always made an invaluable contribution to national disease control programmes and this new arrangement underlines the critical role they will continue to play in protecting animal health and welfare.”