TB testing in NI to stop unless under 'exceptional circumstances'

Tuberculosis testing should no longer be carried out with the exemption of exceptional circumstances, DAERA said
Tuberculosis testing should no longer be carried out with the exemption of exceptional circumstances, DAERA said

Bovine TB tests in Northern Ireland will no longer be carried out unless under 'exceptional circumstances', the devolved government has said.

Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots has made the decision in response to Covid-19 and to 'ensure the safety' of farmers.

Visits to carry out bTB tests may continue if they can be done 'safely in accordance with the public health guidance'.

Mr Poots said: “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.

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

A secondary concern for the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) is to maintain the integrity of the food supply chain.

"We will keep this position under review as we move through the various stages of the outbreak," Mr Poots added.

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

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

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

The Ulster Farmers' Union (UFU) welcomed the move, saying most farmers will be 'relieved' concerns have been highlighted about the Covid-19 transmission risk it would pose.

David Brown, the union's deputy president said, however, that there will be some who are currently under TB restrictions who will be disappointed by this move.

"Bovine tuberculosis tests will only now occur under exceptional circumstances where they can be conducted in accordance with the public health guidance," he said.

"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,” Mr Brown said.