Management of TB breakdowns in England and Wales during the COVID-19 outbreak

The Animal & Plant Health Agency (APHA) has contingency plans in place for managing TB breakdowns during the COVID-19 outbreak. This includes activities such as disease investigation, TB testing, licensing, reactor removal, post-mortem inspection and tissue culture of reactor cattle. This guidance applies to both England and Wales unless specifically stated otherwise. For Scotland, please direct any queries about TB breakdown management to APHA Scotland.

Q&A

TB testing

In breakdown herds, short interval tests (SITs) will continue to be scheduled from 60 days after the last reactor is removed. The window for completion of SITs is set automatically at 30 days. The temporary amendment in England and Wales that allowed an additional 30 days to complete the test ended on 1 July 2021. You are advised to book your TB test with your OV as soon as you are informed of the testing requirements by APHA. If you have issues completing the TB test within the required window please contact APHA as soon as possible.

APHA will accept requests for private interferon-gamma testing subject to laboratory availability. Please refer your vet to the APHA Vet Gateway for further information.

Reactor removal, slaughter and compensation

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) and Food Standards Scotland (FSS) have contingency plans in place in the event of reduced slaughterhouse capacity to deal with TB reactor cattle. APHA also has a contingency plan in place in the event of reduced haulier capacity to transport reactors to contracted slaughterhouses. If removal of skin test reactors, interferon-gamma test positive or direct contact (DC) animals is delayed due to the COVID-19 outbreak, those animals must remain isolated on farm until removal is possible. Farmers are responsible for the isolation of such animals pending their removal, and must ensure that their welfare is maintained during this time, particularly if removal is delayed. SITs will continue to be scheduled from 60 days after the last reactor is removed, therefore any delay in reactor removal will have a knock-on effect on subsequent SITs.

APHA only arranges on-farm slaughter of TB reactor cattle in cases where they are unfit to be transported to the slaughterhouse, for example due to lameness, or animals within the last 28 days of pregnancy and those that have calved in the last seven days. Cattle that are not properly identified or are within a medicine withdrawal period cannot enter the human food chain and must also be slaughtered on farm. However you do have the option to arrange and pay for on-farm slaughter/euthanasia and removal to a knacker’s yard. In England, by opting for privately arranged on-farm slaughter, you will not be eligible for any compensation that may have been payable for the animals. If you are considering this option, please contact APHA so that the need for a post-mortem examination at the knacker’s yard can be assessed.

APHA’s policy regarding on-farm slaughter remains the same. APHA only arranges on-farm slaughter in cases where cattle are not fit for transport to the slaughterhouse, for example due to lameness, or animals within the last 28 days of pregnancy and those that have calved in the last seven days. Cattle that are not properly identified or are within a medicine withdrawal period cannot enter the human food chain and must also be slaughtered on farm. However you do have the option to arrange and pay for on-farm slaughter/euthanasia and removal to a knacker’s yard. In England, by opting for privately arranged on-farm slaughter, you will not be eligible for any compensation that may have been payable for the animals. If you are considering this option, please contact APHA so that the need for a post-mortem examination at the knacker’s yard can be assessed.

Prior to removal of the animals, you should discuss arrangements with the haulage contractor to establish how loading operations can be conducted safely, in line with current public health advice.

If you need to self-isolate and will be unavailable when your animals are collected, please notify APHA during the valuation call. APHA will pass this information on to the slaughterhouse and they will discuss this directly with you when making arrangements to collect your animals. If removal of reactors is delayed due to the COVID-19 outbreak, animals must remain isolated on farm until removal is possible, and farmers must ensure that their welfare needs are met during this time.

Yes. If an animal is due to calve within 60 days of its identification as a TB reactor, a request can be made to APHA to delay its slaughter to allow for calving and retention of the calf. If you want to delay removal, you need to provide a written declaration from you as the owner, and a private vet of your choice before the request can be authorised by APHA. The relevant forms (TB211/TB212) can be downloaded from GOV.UK under the Delayed removal of in-calf cattle section. This is at the owner’s expense. Whilst social distancing measures are in place during the COVID-19 outbreak, you will need to discuss with your vet how the visit can be carried out safely and in line with current public health advice.

Yes. Earlier in the COVID-19 outbreak the Food Standards Agency (FSA) was only able to undertake the required post mortem inspection and sampling of IRs, reactors and DCs in slaughterhouses contracted by APHA to take reactors. This was due to the pressure that the COVID-19 outbreak put on FSA, particularly on supplies of face masks and other personal protective equipment required to inspect and sample IR, reactor and DC cattle. You can privately send your IRs, reactors and DCs to slaughterhouses other than those currently contracted by APHA to take TB reactor cattle. However you are advised to check directly with the slaughterhouse before making arrangements as it is a commercial decision as to whether they accept privately slaughtered IRs, reactors and DCs. APHA staff will confirm the agreement with the slaughterhouse and FSA prior to issuing the movement licence. Please also note that local difficulties for the FSA to facilitate private slaughter may still arise as a result of the current COVID-19 outbreak.

Yes. Normal procedures resumed in Wales on 1 July 2021 for valuations. Pregnancy diagnosis certification is required for the valuation of in-calf reactor animals.

Case management 

APHA has temporarily suspended DRF visits to farms until further notice, and will instead be conducting them over the telephone. An APHA vet will contact you to complete the disease report form and answer any questions you may have about the breakdown. Please note that in the High Risk Area of England only, not all TB breakdowns are selected for a DRF visit therefore you may not be contacted by a vet. However, you will still be contacted by APHA administrative staff to gather the necessary information for case management purposes.

Yes they do, as your herd will already have been under TB restrictions for a reasonable length of time. Persistent breakdown measures such as removal of standard IRs, and interferon-gamma/antibody blood testing of severe IRs, are designed to minimise the likelihood of your herd being free to trade with infected cattle still present, and to remove those infected animals before they have a chance to spread infection in the herd.