Authorised on-farm use of bovine TB test expected next year

A new test, costing £30 a cow and described as a “game-changer” in preventing the spread of bovine TB and Johne’s disease, could be used on UK farms as early as next year as a back-up to the statutory skin test.

East Anglian firm PDB Biotech is seeking validation from the World Organisation for Animal Health for its Actiphage blood test to be accepted as a tool for detecting disease in herds classified as TB-free.

See also: New six-hour TB test approved for ‘exceptional’ use

Currently it can be used only with special permission from the Animal and Plant Health Agency in chronic breakdown herds.

Former dairy farmer Jonnie Yewdall, who estimates that TB cost his business up to £400,000 and who is now commercial director of PDB Biotech, says a validated test could be authorised for use in TB-free herds next year.

“We are at the scientific stage of testing and we will go into the field later this year to start testing, to prove that the positives are positives and the negatives are negatives,” he told an online Agri-TechExpress event on Tuesday (6 July).

Simple answers

Actiphage tests for live mycobacteria and gives a simple “positive” or “negative” answer within six hours.

“How the test will be used we are not absolutely sure,” said Mr Yewdall. “It might be used as a back-up to the skin test to confirm animals we are not sure about.”

Research to date shows that it tallies with the gamma interferon test on positive readings.

It could also be used to differentiate between animals that are infected or vaccinated, allowing the introduction of a vaccination programme, and as a pre-movement test.

Mr Yewdall said: “If I was buying or selling a cow, to find out if it has got Johne’s or TB prior to sale would be a massive game changer. It would prevent the disease being moved around.”

One of the benefits of the test is its simplicity – the sample doesn’t need to be stored under special conditions and it can be posted to the laboratory.

Mr Yewdall lost a third of his dairy herd in Devon following a positive TB test, and some of the animals he bought to replace these showed signs of Johne’s.

“I hope Actiphage will eradicate this [TB] disease,” he said.