Mitigations made to bovine TB testing in Northern Ireland to minimise disruption as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic are set to end.

Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots made the announcement today (July 20).

The measures were introduced between March and May 2020 to protect farm families, testing veterinarians and to mitigate the effect of the Covid-19 pandemic on the bTB programme.

Since March 2020, herd keepers have not been referred to the paying agency for overdue bTB tests if they or their vet advise DAERA that the test could not be completed by the due date for reasons associated with the Covid-19 pandemic.

From August 16, 2021, this measure will no longer apply.

Normal protocols for managing overdue skin tests include a provision that keepers will not be referred to the paying agencies if DAERA is notified of extenuating circumstances that will prevent a test from going ahead before a TB test deadline passes.

Extenuating circumstances could include, for example, a requirement for self-isolation due to Covid-19.

Minister Poots said: “Last year, I took early action to implement a number of changes to safeguard the health and well-being of farmers, veterinary practitioners and staff. These actions also ensured that our bovine TB programme could continue to operate during the pandemic.

At the time I agreed to keep these measures under review and I believe we have now reached the point where normal arrangements can resume.

“It is essential that our bovine TB herd tests are carried out within the prescribed timeframes, both for the control of the disease and to ensure that the Northern Ireland TB programme remains compliant with legislative requirements.

"Our TB programme facilitates access to export markets by our export-dependent livestock and livestock product sectors. This trade is worth £1.7 billion to the beef and dairy industry each year.”

Other mitigations

The exemption for calves under 180 days-of-age from testing will also end from August 16, 2021. Meanwhile, herds that exceed 15 months without a herd test will return to requiring two clear tests to reinstate their Officially Tuberculosis Free status.

However, calves under 42 days-old will remain exempt from all future bovine TB herd tests.