By Debbie James

Youngstock in dairy and beef herds in Wales not under bovine TB movement restrictions are to be exempt from routine and surveillance testing because of on-farm social distancing concerns.

Under the derogation, movement restrictions will not be placed on officially TB-free (OTF) herds if the vet doesn’t believe testing of cattle under 180 days can be safely carried out in line with Covid-19 guidelines.

This includes all herds that had been due a test on and after March 23, 2020.

The decision has been described as a “pragmatic approach to the current pandemic’’ by the Farmers’ Union of Wales (FUW).

FUW senior policy officer Dr Hazel Wright said the FUW had raised its concerns with the Welsh Government.

This concern stemmed from many farmers, due to their age, being in the Covid-19 high risk category.

It was important that the rules around TB testing did not risk their health, said Dr Wright.

“It is extremely difficult to maintain social distancing rules when testing young calves for bovine TB and this derogation is therefore extremely welcome.

“It will come as a huge relief to those farmers facing the conflict of adhering to TB rules whilst also trying to adhere to social distancing rules and protect themselves and their family from illness.”

The temporary exemption will be regularly reviewed by the government while social distancing measures are in force.

The derogation does not apply to cattle aged over 180 days.

The Animal & Plant Health Agency (APHA) says that in this instance testing is continuing as normal but with additional biosecurity and personal protection measures.

Restrictions will be applied to farms that don’t complete that test in their defined window and their OTF status will be withdrawn.

AHPA is advising practices to “make the best decisions you can under the circumstances’’ to enable as much of the testing to be carried out as possible.

Farmers, it says, won’t lose Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) cash through cross compliance penalties, if “all reasonable endeavours’’ are made to complete the test within the specified window and that there are genuine mitigating circumstances.

And neither will there be a reduction in compensation paid for any cows that test as reactors when the overdue test is eventually completed.

“It is recognised that each situation will be different and while most will be resolved by sensible discussion between the official veterinarian and the owner/keeper there are likely to be cases that are more difficult to resolve and advice should be sort from senior staff in APHA or veterinary delivery partners,’’ says APHA.