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.
Due to the reduced veterinary capacity for TB testing during the COVID-19 outbreak, and to ease the burden on farmers, rollout of this policy planned for April 2020 was deferred until September 2020 and introduced in Staffordshire and Shropshire only. On 1 July 2021, default six-monthly surveillance testing was implemented across the rest of the HRA. Cattle herds at lower risk of a TB breakdown have the option to remain on annual surveillance testing, mirroring the ‘earned recognition’ criteria currently applied in six-monthly testing areas of England.
Increasing the default testing frequency of cattle herds in the HRA from annual to six-monthly enables 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.
Six-monthly surveillance testing
Default six-monthly surveillance testing of cattle herds was implemented in the counties of Staffordshire and Shropshire in September 2020. This policy change was implemented across the rest of the HRA on 1 July 2021. Lower bTB risk herds that meet certain criteria have the option to remain on annual surveillance testing (see below for further details).
A staged delivery of the policy gave 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 the HRA 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 (see below), in which case your next WHT will be scheduled for 12 months later. Herds that complete their annual WHT between July and December 2021 will have their first six-monthly herd test from January 2022 onwards unless the start of the testing window was before 1 July 2021, in which case the test will be scheduled six months from the start of the test window. Those that complete their annual WHT between January and June 2022 will have their first six-monthly herd test from July 2022 onwards. All affected cattle keepers have received a letter from APHA notifying them of the changes to surveillance testing.
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 on a six-monthly surveillance testing frequency are subject to the same pre- and post-movement testing rules as annually tested herds.
|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 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|
|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|
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 is 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 licensed by the Cattle Health Certification Standards (CHECS) and accredited at level 1 or above. Please note that CHECS TB entry level membership does not confer eligibility for annual surveillance testing.
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 bovine TB health schemes licensed by CHECS 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
The CHECS bovine TB accreditation programme was launched in late 2016. For more information and to register, visit the CHECS website. Please note that there is also a CHECS TB entry level membership launched in May 2021 which is different to the CHECS TB herd accreditation.
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 on the CHECS website. 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).
APHA identifies all cattle herds that meet the eligibility criteria for annual surveillance testing. From July 2021, 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-licensed bovine TB health schemes and will approach all eligible registered herd keepers in due course. Keepers of CHECS TB accredited herds 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 June and December each year using data up to the end of 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 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 Veterinary Delivery Partner (VDP) have not already been notified in writing of the requirement to test. If the test has already been notified to the cattle keeper and the VDP, it will need to be completed and then the subsequent test will be scheduled on an annual basis. This would occur in the following scenarios;
- the herd is registered to a CHECS-licensed 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-licensed 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.