Currently, on-farm bTB testing in England is done by vets working for private businesses who are trained, appointed and paid by the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) to carry out the work. From May 1 this year, APHA will manage bTB testing in England through delivery partners who have successfully tendered for the work and who will be responsible for allocating and monitoring testing in five geographical regions in England. The delivery partners were announced yesterday.

Minette Batters, NFU Deputy President, said farmers were concerned about the impact the change could have on them being able to continue to use their own vets.

“Throughout this process we have made our concerns very clear to Defra and the APHA. It is vital that the new delivery partners maintain local service delivery so farmers can continue to use their own vets without having to pay towards the testing costs,” Ms Batters said.

“The long-term relationships farmers build with their vets are hugely important for all aspects of animal health and welfare, and especially regarding bovine TB. These vets have often worked closely with farmers for many years, building up trust, knowledge of the farmer’s business, and a working relationship which allows them to have informed and detailed discussions about how best to keep bTB, and other diseases, out of their herds.

“We are concerned that testing on some smaller farms, or farms which have more complicated tests, will no longer be economically viable for the local vet practice under this new system.

“It is also important that if there are any problems when the new system is introduced which result in overdue tests farmers are not fined under cross compliance for something that is beyond their control,” Ms Batters said.

Under the new system, the delivery partners are contractually required to offer testing work to vet businesses operating within their geographical region. Livestock keepers will be able to express a preference for a particular sub-contracted vet to do their testing and APHA has said this will be honoured where possible.