Current UK TB rules – and what’s coming next

Defra and its devolved counterparts announced a series of tougher bovine TB rules in the past months in a bid to control the disease, which continues to see tens of thousands of cattle culled each year.  

Behind the headline-grabbing policies on badger culling, farmers have faced scores of new regulations, including movement restrictions, holding unit administration changes and tougher testing regimes.

We set out some of the most recent changes across the UK.

See also: Expert advice – what happens if my herd fails a TB test?

England: Control policies

The country is already divided into three areas based on disease levels with different control measures employed in each area:

  • High-risk area (HRA)
  • Edge area (EA)
  • Low-risk area (LRA)

Testing intervals, in place since January 2015, remain the same in the LRA (four years) and HRA (annually). But the extension and testing intervals in the EA are under review.

Measures introduced from 1 April 2017 include:

  • Wider use of gamma-interferon blood testing in HRA.
  • Compulsory gamma testing to supplement skin test when: infected cattle are the likely TB source; and the infected herd is in an area where badger culling has been completed for two or more years or repeated skin testing has not resolved a TB incident.
  • Using “severe interpretation” for skin tests on traced cattle. This means skin tests in any animals moved and traced from lesion- and/or culture-positive TB breakdown herds will be read using the severe interpretation – meaning the cut-off point for a positive result is lowered to reduce the likelihood of missing infected animals.
  • Harmonising the scheduling of short-interval tests (SITs) in TB breakdown herds – a more rigorous approach will take place in all TB affected herds; the SITs will take place at least 60 days after the removal of the last reactors.
  • Tighter cattle movement control between TB breakdown herds: Cattle movement can be licensed between TB herds. To reduce TB transmission risks between herds, this will only be permitted where the destination herd is due to have at least two SITs at severe interpretation.

Measures to be phased-in during 2017-18 include:

  • Area boundary changes Oxfordshire, Warwickshire, Derbyshire, Cheshire and East Sussex were split between the EA and HRA. But these now fall wholly into EA, which caused changes to TB test routine and eligibility for gamma-interferon tests.
  • Extending six-monthly and radial testing across EA From January 1 2018 six-monthly surveillance testing was applied in Warwickshire, Oxfordshire, west Berkshire, north-west Hampshire and west Derbyshire. Radial testing around TB breakdowns with lesion and/or culture positive animals applies in all other parts of the new EA.
  • Inconclusive skin test reactor risks From 1 November 2017 all IRs in HRA, EA and TB breakdown herds in the LRA that had a negative result on a re-test are restricted to the holding they were found for their lifetime. Permitted movements are only to slaughterhouses or AFUs. Cattle can move directly or via an Approved Slaughter Gathering or TB Dedicated Sale (Orange Market).

 Recently introduced measures:

  • New 10-mile rule Farmers can apply to register all land under the same county parish holding (CPH) number within a 10-mile radius.
  • Rules inside merged CPHs Movements between pieces of land do not need to be recorded or reported
  • Movements do not trigger a standstill period ID tags for closed holdings are redundant (you are no longer be able to use the old ID tags for the holdings that were closed due to the merger)
  • Holding registers must be updated All land treated the same for disease testing and restriction purposes.
  • Temporary land associations (TLA) Additional temporary land within 10 miles can be associated via a 12-month TLA.
  • Temporary CPHs (tCPHsA tCPH can be used to cover one or more land parcels intended for use up to 12 months.
  • Cattle tracing system links (CTS links) These were withdrawn in summer 2017. CTS links allowed keepers to link holdings if they frequently move cattle between them.
  • Sole occupancy authorities These were also withdrawn. SOAs were a way of grouping holdings so farmers could move animals between holdings without triggering standstill.
  • Introduced in May 2018: In calf cows can remain on farm for up to 60 days after they calve. This requires a veterinary and a farmer declaration that certain criteria can be met, such as isolation facilities and the cow will calve within 60 days etc. The main thing farmers need to be aware of though is the next short interval test can only be done 60 days after the last reactor has left the farm, so it will delay the next test and prevent farms potential from being able to buy in ( as this can only be considered after the first SI test has been completed).

Three rules introduced on 1 November 2018:

  1. Reduced compensation payments (50%) for dirty cattle.
  2. Reduced compensation for bought in cattle whilst under TB movement restrictions. If any cattle are bought onto the restricted holding and subsequently go down as reactors in that breakdown farmers will only receive 50% compensation value. It is important to note this includes farmers who own stock such as heifers reared on a different holding.
  3. If cattle sent for private slaughter are condemned because they have TB lesions they will still qualify for government compensation. Previously if farmers chose to privately slaughter cattle and they were condemned due to being a TB reactor farmers would receive nothing as they had opted out of the government scheme. This means that if farmers have cattle that they could get a better price for if they are slaughtered privately farmers now can with no risk of no payment at all.

Change due in May 2019:

Holdings on six monthly testing regime will return to annual testing if they meet certain criteria that make them lower risk herds. For example, if they haven’t had TB in six years or if their CHeCs-accredited risk score is 1 or above.

Scotland: Control policies

Scotland achieved official TB-free status (OTF) in 2009. A risk-based TB policy was introduced on 1 January 2012. “Low-risk” herds were exempted from the default four-yearly routine herd testing.

The first four-year testing cycle was completed on 31 December 2015 and a review found there was scope to increase the number of exempted herds.  All herds are assessed annually for eligibility for exemption.

Wales: Control policies

From 1 October 2017, Wales was split into low (LTB), intermediate (ITB) and high TB (HTB) areas according to disease incidence.

Measures are tailored to protect the LTB and reduce incidences in the ITB and HTB areas and include:

  • Post-movement testing From 1 October 2017, all cattle moved into the LTB, including from HRA and EA farms in England, will require a post-movement test. This may be extended to ITB areas from October 2018.
  • Pre-movement testing in LTB From 1 October 2017, pre-movement testing will not be required for cattle moved within or from the LTB area.
  • Clearing test in chronic TB herd breakdowns To better ensure there is no latent TB in persistent and recurring herd breakdowns, the clearing tests that previously lifted restrictions will no longer be used as a pre-movement test. From 1 October, animals on these farms only, will remain on farm for at least 60 days.
  • Inconclusive reactors (IRs) in chronic herd breakdowns As part of the ongoing action plan process, all IRs in chronic herd breakdowns will be slaughtered. Persistent breakdowns will be focused on initially. Further consideration will be given to the wider policy of dealing with IRs.
  • Exempt finishing units (EFUs) Between January 2015 and December 2016 there were at least 15 new breakdowns in the 21 Welsh EFUs. Because of this risk, EFUs will be phased out by 1 January 2018.
  • Biosecurity requirements notices (BRNs) Individual BRNs will be issued in chronic breakdown herds to ensure biosecurity is reviewed and tightened where necessary. Compensation will be reduced in cases of non-compliance. Persistent breakdowns will be focused on initially.

Northern Ireland: Control policies

Northern Ireland’s Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (Daera) has announced a series of additional measures to combat the spread of bovine TB.

  • “Severe interpretation” for skin tests on traced cattle Wider use of the severe interpretation of skin tests in breakdown herds. This means the cut-off point for a positive result will be lowered to reduce the likelihood of missing infected animals in a breakdown.
  • Additional testing after clear test A further herd test will be introduced after the clear test for farms considered to be a higher risk of reinfection. In effect, this means the annual herd test would be brought forward by six months for a certain number of herds.
  • Tougher rules on “TB-free” status Herds that have more than one skin test reactor will have their OTF status withdrawn. This rule change is expected to be introduced in 2018.
  • Reactor data collection visits Daera officials will accompany Livestock Valuation Officers on-farm visits and collect data on reactors. The results will be used to inform future policy on TB skin test reaction changes.
  • TB in badgers survey Daera will survey badgers in two areas where TB infection rates are high – one near Londonderry and the other near Omagh. The survey will include sett mapping, blood testing and the removal and laboratory examination of any badgers testing positive.