Six-monthly surveillance testing of cattle herds in the High Risk Area

Due to the reduced veterinary capacity for TB testing during the COVID-19 pandemic, and to ease the burden on farmers, rollout of this policy is being deferred until the situation improves. Further information will follow in due course.

Following a public consultation, Defra announced in 2018 that default six-monthly TB surveillance testing of cattle herds would replace annual testing in the High Risk Area (HRA) of England.

To reduce the burden on cattle keepers and the Veterinary Delivery Partners (VDP) who carry out TB testing, six-monthly surveillance testing is being phased in gradually from April 2020. Cattle herds at lower risk of a TB breakdown will remain on annual surveillance testing, mirroring the ‘earned recognition’ criteria currently applied in six-monthly testing parts of the Edge Area.

Increasing the default testing frequency of cattle herds in the HRA from annual to six-monthly will enable TB-infected herds to be identified sooner. This reduces the time the TB bacterium can spread within the herd, be transmitted to other herds, and potentially shed in the farm environment. This surveillance testing change is consistent with Professor Godfray’s review of the government’s bTB eradication strategy for England, which suggested that the sensitivity of TB surveillance testing should be increased.

Moving to six-monthly surveillance testing also allows the Animal & Plant Heath Agency (APHA) to reduce the number of ad hoc, unplanned TB tests such as tracing and contiguous tests. These ad hoc tests can be particularly disruptive for herd owners.

Q&A

Six-monthly surveillance testing

Default six-monthly surveillance testing of cattle herds in the HRA of England is being introduced from April 2020. It will be phased in gradually and initially only apply to herds in certain counties.

 

Phase 1
From April 2020, six-monthly surveillance testing is being introduced in the HRA counties of Staffordshire and Shropshire. Lower bTB risk herds in these counties that meet certain criteria (see below for details), will remain on annual surveillance testing.

 

Phase 2
Six-monthly surveillance testing will be rolled out in the rest of the HRA in due course, with lower bTB risk herds that meet certain criteria remaining on annual surveillance testing.

 

Phase 1 will begin in April 2020, and further details about phase 2 will follow.

A staged delivery of the policy gives VDPs, who deliver TB testing, and cattle keepers more time to adapt. Staffordshire is part of a geographically large TB ‘hotspot’ or ‘mini-epidemic’ caused by the same strain of M. bovis which is endemic in cattle herds and badgers across Cheshire, West Derbyshire and North West Shropshire. The county also shares a long border with three high TB incidence counties in the Edge Area. These adjacent Edge Area counties are already on six-monthly surveillance testing to reduce the risk of disease spread from the Edge to the Low Risk Area. By introducing six-monthly testing into Staffordshire, a consistent and coherent testing approach is delivered across the entire hotspot.

 

Shropshire is another high TB incidence county bordering Cheshire in the Edge Area. There has been an increasing incidence of TB breakdowns on the Wales/England cross border area straddling Wrexham and North West Shropshire in recent years. Six-monthly surveillance testing in Shropshire complements enhanced surveillance testing in herds in the Intermediate TB Area North of Wales in the Wrexham area.

The scheduled annual whole herd tests (WHT) for cattle herds in Staffordshire and Shropshire will go ahead as planned. In line with standard procedures, APHA will advise you (if they have not already done so) of the testing window for your WHT via a test notification letter. If that WHT is completed with negative results, your next test will be scheduled for six months later, unless your herd qualifies for earned recognition, in which case your next WHT will be scheduled for 12 months later.

 

Herds that complete their annual WHT between April and September 2020 will have their first six-monthly herd test from October 2020 onwards. Those that complete their annual WHT between October 2020 and March 2021 will have their first six-monthly herd test from April 2021. Please see the table below.

 

All cattle keepers in Staffordshire and Shropshire will receive a letter from APHA notifying them of the changes to surveillance testing in their counties. Cattle keepers in other HRA counties will not be affected by this change until phase 2 of the rollout begins, and further details will follow in due course.

60 days, the same window as applies to an annual WHT.

These are government funded TB tests.

Yes, as long as the test results are negative and the animals leave the herd in the following 60 days. Cattle in herds in the HRA of England that are placed on a six-monthly surveillance testing frequency will continue to be subject to the same pre- and post-movement testing rules as annually tested herds.

Some flexibility is available. APHA allows a one-off change i.e. keepers can request to bring the next testing window forward (not back). Once your routine WHT in 2020 has been completed, if you wish to bring forward the date of the next test (which will be scheduled for six months later unless you qualify for earned recognition), please first discuss this with the veterinary practice that carries out your TB testing.

 

If they confirm that they can accommodate your request, please contact the APHA TB Advice Centre via the Defra Rural Services Helpline on 03000 200 301. If you do not confirm that your vet has the capacity to accommodate a change in your herd’s testing window, you risk going overdue and could incur basic farm payment penalties, if applicable. Please think about what routine whole herd test dates would suit your business needs. The following table may help you to plan ahead.

 

Earliest date WHT can be started (examples)

Window for WHT

Earliest date first six-monthly test can be started

Window for first six-monthly test following the WHT

1 April

1 April to 31 May

1 October

1 October to 30 November

1 May

1 May to 30 June

1 November

1 November to 31 December

1 June

1 June to 31 July

1 December

1 December to 30 January

1 July

1 July to 30 August

1 January

1 January to 2 March

1 August

1 August to 30 September

1 February

1 February to 2 April

1 September

1 September to 31 October

1 March

1 March to 30 April

1 October

1 October to 30 November

1 April

1 April to 31 May

1 November

1 November to 31 December

1 May

1 May to 30 June

1 December

1 December to 30 January

1 June

1 June to 31 July

1 January

1 January to 2 March

1 July

1 July to 30 August

1 February

1 February to 2 April

1 August

1 August to 30 September

1 March

1 March to 30 April

1 September

1 September to 31 October

Approved Finishing Units (AFU) and Approved Finishing Units (Enhanced) with grazing (AFUE) are high biosecurity units and provide an outlet for rearing/finishing of clear tested cattle from TB-restricted holdings without such facilities. AFUs and AFUEs are approved TB units and are not affected by this change to surveillance testing.

 

Cattle in AFUs with grazing and AFUEs are TB tested every 90 days, so they are unaffected by this change. For AFUs without grazing, the default position is that no routine surveillance testing is required in these units. However, APHA retain the option to test in exceptional circumstances, for example if there is extensive evidence of TB found at slaughter. Further information about AFUs is available on the TB Hub and GOV.UK.

Pre-movement testing Exempt Finishing Units (EFUs) are APHA-approved TB units which provide a route for beef finishing enterprises to purchase animals intended for slaughter, without the need to pre-movement test them. EFUs are subject to surveillance testing at the normal frequency for the area in which they are located, therefore EFUs in the HRA are affected by the change and will move onto six-monthly surveillance testing. Find out more about EFUs on GOV.UK.

Contiguous herd testing carried out to detect spread of infection from a TB breakdown with lesion and/or culture positive animals to other cattle herds. It is not usually required in herds on six-monthly testing due to the high frequency of surveillance testing. However, APHA may require contiguous testing in these herds in exceptional circumstances.

Lower bTB risk cattle herds that qualify for annual surveillance testing continue to be subject to contiguous testing if a neighbour’s herd suffers a TB breakdown with lesion and/or culture positive animals. Provided the contiguous test is completed with negative results the herd continues on annual surveillance testing.

 

Cattle holdings identified by APHA for contiguous testing need to have a TB test of all cattle aged 42 days and older. You will be notified by APHA if your herd requires a contiguous test and the test notification letter will tell you the date that the test is due. If your herd has recently completed a whole herd test with negative results, or is due to have a herd test soon, the contiguous test won’t be required.

Spread tracing involves identifying and testing cattle moved from a TB breakdown holding that has had lesion and/or culture positive animals within a defined period (the ‘tracing window’). Any cattle that moved off before the application of TB restrictions are traced and, if still alive, TB tested to minimise the risk of disease spread to other herds. In England, cattle identified as spread tracer animals are tested using severe interpretation to reduce the risk of missing infected animals.

 

APHA still trace test animals moved from breakdown herds with lesion and/or culture positive animals to herds on six-monthly surveillance testing. However, wherever possible, trace tests are synchronised with a six-monthly whole herd test, negating the need to test the traced animals separately. Alternatively if there is a long period of time until the next six-monthly herd test, APHA will arrange a stand-alone test for the traced animal(s) as normal.

Earned recognition: qualifying for annual surveillance testing

Cattle herds in six-monthly testing areas are eligible for annual surveillance testing if they meet either of the following criteria:

  • the herd has been in existence for at least six years and has not had a TB breakdown in that six year period. A single break from keeping cattle of less than four months during the six year period is permitted
  • the herd is registered to a bovine TB health scheme accredited under the Cattle Health Certification Standards (CHeCS) at level 1 or above

Research by APHA published in 2015 on the risk of a herd becoming infected with bovine TB showed that, after a TB breakdown, the longer a herd went without a further breakdown, the likelihood of the herd being infected with bovine TB dropped. The CHeCS-accredited bovine TB health schemes use the number of years officially TB free (OTF) as a basis for their scoring system, and also require enhanced biosecurity standards to be met.  The eligibility criteria for annual surveillance testing takes into account both the number of years OTF, and CHeCS accreditation for bovine TB to identify herds at lower risk of suffering a TB breakdown.

Where a cattle keeper has not held any cattle for multiple and/or prolonged periods of time through the six-year qualifying period (i.e. at times there were no animals at risk of contracting bovine TB) the herd’s risk of suffering a TB breakdown will be artificially lowered.

 

To allow flexibility to reflect alterations to business models and unexpected events, a single break of less than four months at any time in the six year qualifying period will be permitted. Additionally, breaks up to one month are permitted when assessing eligibility for all-in all-out systems.

Cattle Health Certification Standards (CHeCS) is the regulatory body for cattle health schemes in the UK and Ireland. CHeCS was established by the cattle industry to control and eradicate a number of diseases using a set of standards to which all licensed cattle health schemes must adhere. The cattle health schemes are voluntary and are administered by a number of providers covering the following diseases;

  • Bovine TB
  • Bovine Viral Diarrhoea (BVD)
  • Infectious Bovine Rhinotracheitis (IBR)
  • Johne’s Disease
  • Leptospirosis
  • Neospora

 

The CHeCS accredited bovine TB health scheme was launched in late 2016. For more information and to register, visit the CHeCS website.

Participating herds are allocated a score from 1-10, denoting the number of years of official TB freedom. For example a herd that has been OTF for 10 years will have a score of 10 and a herd that has been OTF for one year will have a score of 1. If a herd is CHeCS accredited for bovine TB and loses its OTF status due to a TB breakdown, then the herd is no longer able to participate in the scheme. Once the herd regains its OTF status, it can re-join the scheme and slowly build up its CHeCS score again from zero.

 

If a CHeCS accredited herd loses its OTF status solely due to an animal being placed in quarantine its CHeCS score and eligibility for annual surveillance testing should not be affected. For more information, see the bovine TB herd accreditation technical standard.

 

Herds registered to a bovine TB health scheme must adhere to certain standards (as laid out in the technical specification) which include implementing enhanced biosecurity measures on-farm, and completing additional TB testing (e.g. post movement testing for added animals).

Prior to the introduction of phase 1, APHA identify all cattle herds in Staffordshire and Shropshire that meet the eligibility criteria for annual surveillance testing. From April 2020 and throughout 2020, APHA will write to cattle keepers whose herds meet the eligibility criteria to let them know their herd testing interval will stay the same. After the initial assessment, APHA will continue to check eligibility every six months.

APHA works with the providers of CHeCS-accredited bovine TB health schemes and will approach all eligible registered herd keepers in due course. Keepers of herds registered to a CHeCS-accredited bovine TB health scheme can also contact APHA themselves to provide proof of their membership.

Yes. Keepers of cattle herds’ eligible to remain on annual surveillance testing are notified by APHA in writing. If a keeper wishes for their herd to move to six-monthly surveillance testing even though they qualify for earned recognition, they should contact APHA. Cattle keepers opting out of annual testing will not be able to opt back in for at least 12 months (provided that they are still eligible).

Yes. Herds suffering a TB breakdown will automatically undergo a six month herd check test after regaining OTF status, in line with standard APHA procedures. If the herd completes the post-breakdown six month check test with negative results, a six-monthly routine herd test will be scheduled as the herd will no longer meet the eligibility criteria for annual surveillance testing.

Yes. Contiguous testing is still carried out in herds on annual surveillance testing immediately adjacent to a TB breakdown herd with lesion and/or culture positive animals.

No. A TB incident involving co-located farmed non-bovine species during the six year qualifying period will not prevent a herd qualifying for annual surveillance testing if the cattle herd remained OTF.

APHA updates the eligibility lists every six months in July and January each year using data up to the previous April and October respectively. The updates result in further herds becoming eligible (when they reach six years OTF or level 1 or above CHeCS accreditation), but also some herds lose their eligibility due to having a TB breakdown or prolonged/multiple breaks from keeping cattle.

No. Herd testing intervals are not be amended between the six-monthly eligibility checks for those herds qualifying under the six years OTF criterion.

Yes. For herds qualifying under the CHeCS criterion only (at level 1 or above), cattle keepers can contact APHA any time during the year as soon as their herd becomes eligible, and their herd testing interval will be amended from six-monthly to annual. The next test scheduled will be delayed by six months as long as the cattle keeper and the VDP have not already been notified in writing of the requirement to test.

 

This would occur in the following scenarios;

  • the herd is registered to a CHeCS accredited bovine TB health scheme following a TB breakdown and then achieves one year OTF  
  • the herd has already had at least one year OTF and recently registered with a CHeCS accredited bovine TB health scheme

No. EFUs are APHA-approved TB units and as such they retain their unique status and operating conditions, and undergo surveillance testing at the normal frequency for the area in which they are located.