TB testing suspended in Northern Ireland

All TB testing will cease in Northern Ireland with immediate effect, the region’s Minister of Agriculture Edwin Poots has announced.

In a statement, Minister Poots said he made the decision to ensure the safety of farmers, farm families and DAERA staff during the Covid-19 pandemic.

On Friday, it was announced that all departmental farm inspections would cease with the exception of Brucellosis and TB testing.

“We have now moved to update our approach to TB testing – the default position is that TB testing visits should no longer be carried out,” Minister Poots said.

Under exceptional circumstances, visits to carry out bovine TB tests may continue if they can be done safely in accordance with public health guidance.

“As we respond to this fast-paced public health crisis, our primary focus and goal is to protect health and save lives.

“We have a secondary concern in DAERA and that is to maintain the integrity of the food supply chain and animal welfare, therefore we will keep this position under review as we move through the various stages of the Covid-19 outbreak.”

For each arranged test, the testing veterinarian must discuss the conduct of the test with the herdkeeper before commencing.

If the herdkeeper has any doubts or concerns that the necessary facilities to maintain social distancing throughout the test cannot be provided, the test should not be undertaken.

If a test commences, the testing veterinarian must ensure that social distancing is maintained throughout. If it cannot, the test must be abandoned.

‘A relief for farmers’

Ulster Farmers’ Union deputy president David Brown said many farmers would be relieved by the decision.

“Many farmers contacted us about farm visits including those from vets, expressing their worry about the transmission risk it would pose,” he said.

“We shared these concerns with DAERA and it is good to see that they are putting the health of farm families above all else.

“However, there will be some producers who are currently under TB restrictions or wanted to get their livestock tested before summer grazing who will be disappointed by this move.

“Bovine tuberculosis (bTB) tests will only now occur under exceptional circumstances where they can be conducted in accordance with public health guidance.

Covid-19 is a rapidly evolving situation and the DAERA Minister is updating his position based on rapidly changing scientific and medical advice.

“Given the escalating response to this pandemic, we accept it would be irresponsible to allow routine TB testing visits to continue.”

More to follow on this story.