Representation and Education

Temporary Exclusion of TB Testing in Calves

After feedback from the veterinary profession, the Animal Health and Plant and Health Agency (APHA) has announced further measures to enable TB herd tests to be completed safely on farms during COVID-19.

BCVA welcomes these new measures, which state that from 4 May 2020, calves under 180 days of age are temporarily exempt from bTB testing, if testing these calves cannot be done safely, within current social distancing guidelines.  There is also the ability for OVs to request backdating this measure to the start of lockdown (23 March). This means that OFT herds will not go under restriction, if cattle over 6 months of age are tested clear, and calves under 6 months of age cannot be tested for COVID reasons.

The new guidelines, which apply in both England and Wales received ministerial clearance prior to this temporary exemption being implemented. They go on to indicate that if, in the opinion of both the testing vet and the herd keeper, a calf under 180 days of age can be tested while maintaining social distancing, then testing should take place as normal. Exempted calves would still need a pre-movement test if they are to move off a holding, where that move would normally require it. It does not apply to calves requiring a Tracer test, or to post movement tests into a low risk area.

Summary of new temporary measures

  • All calves 42 days old and over should be tested when it is safe to do so in line with current COVID-19 public health (social distancing) guidelines. However …
  • Movement restrictions will not be placed on OTF herds in England and Wales undergoing routine or targeted surveillance TB skin tests if bovine animals under 180 days of age are left untested because, in the OV’s judgement, they cannot be handled safely in line with current Coronavirus public health (social distancing) guidelines. This temporary amendment applies as long as all the other eligible (older) animals in the herd have been TB tested with negative results within the relevant testing window.
  • In relation to other test types in OTF herds, bovine animals 42 days old and over will still require TB skin testing in the following circumstances, but this should only be carried out in accordance with the current guidelines on social distancing:
    • if they are intended for export (private pre-export TB testing)
    • if they are identified by APHA as tracings to or from a TB breakdown herd
    • if they have been identified as inconclusive reactors and are awaiting a skin retest
    • if they are being moved off a holding and that movement normally requires premovement TB testing
    • if they require post-movement TB testing after moving to holdings in Scotland, the Low Risk Area in England or Low TB Area in Wales from a holding in an area of higher TB incidence.
  • This temporary amendment of the TB testing instructions can be applied retrospectively to incomplete tests where the final part of the test would have commenced on or after 23 March 2020 and to any qualifying tests from now on, but only where youngstock under 180 days could not be tested due to valid reasons associated with COVID-19.

Read the full official APHA announcement


A step forward
Prior to this announcement, BCVA President, Nikki Hopkins, made a series of recommendations to the APHA on behalf of the profession. She says “It was always important to stress that vet and farmer safety is paramount. However, we acknowledged early on that there would be far reaching, unintended consequences of ceasing testing altogether, and for an unknown length of time.

“This is why we considered how best to continue necessary cattle movement to ensure the safe future of food production, whilst also protecting cattle welfare and maintaining a level of TB surveillance across the country. We are pleased that APHA’s own evidence along with the experience of our members has shown a need to be pragmatic and flexible about bTB testing under the current restrictions.”


Decision-making on-farm
Since the COVID-19 outbreak vets and their clients have needed to find ways to operate under the social distancing guidelines, and in some cases this can result in pressure on an OV to conduct a TB test when the conditions and facilities are not considered safe. BCVA is working with the APHA and farmer unions, to help communicate the importance of on-farm safety, so that everyone is aware what will be expected from each party in-order to prepare in advance for a TB test.

BCVA has created a useful decision-making tool to assist farm vets when approaching each bTB test scenario. Using a flowchart, the vet can take a risk-assessment that considers their own safety and that of the client.



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