The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine has published the new Bovine TB (bTB) Eradication Strategy – allowing farmers to see for the first time the details contained within the new plan of action.

The key question farmers will be asking, of course, will be what are the new changes?

Below is a breakdown of the strategic actions, which have been formed from recommendations made by the bTB Stakeholder Forum.

The plan will cover TB eradication efforts for the period 2021 to 2030. This article will look at the key strategic actions to reduce bTB levels at farm level.

It is stressed within the plan that the strategy “will be subject to ongoing evolution based on responding to changing risks and disease patterns”.

High-risk herds

Under the action “Preventing spread from herds with a high risk of recurrence”, the Department of Agriculture says that it will provide “enhanced support” for such herds. This will include: a tailored bTB risk management plan for such herds designed by their vets.

Also, cattle moving out of such herds “may be required to have a pre-movement test in the 30 days preceding the movement”, the eradication strategy states.

In addition, the plan says other measures could include resurveying the areas for badger activity, post-clearance testing regimes and testing regimes to maximise test sensitivity.

Novel applications of the gamma interferon blood test are earmarked for the latter.

Turning to “enhanced actions to clear infection from extended breakdown herds”, the plan highlights that herds having an extended outbreak of bTB despite removal of reactors will have a tailored programme of enhanced disease control actions developed by department officials in consultation with the herdowner.

The strategy says that options in these plans “may” include the following:
  • A detailed investigation to identify and remove all sources of infection;
  • The use of additional targeted tests to identify infected animals; and
  • The progressive removal of groups of cattle deemed to be higher risk, such as cattle with a bovine bias on the skin test, cohorts of infected cattle or older cattle.

A pilot scheme to enable the herdowner to obtain biosecurity and risk reduction advice from vets is also earmarked.

Inconclusive animals

Highlighting the higher risk of cattle which test inconclusive to bTB skin tests, the strategy aims to tackle this risk in a number of ways. First off, the greater risk posed by such cattle will be explained to the herdowner.

In addition, the GIF blood test will be conducted on inconclusives in otherwise clear herds shortly after the skin test, and then – should they pass both skin and blood tests –  at regular intervals while they are retained in the herd.

Where herds have breakdowns, such historic inconclusive animals will be “removed as dangerous in-contacts”, the document says.

Finally, the risk posed by animals deemed to be severe inconclusives will be researched and evaluated through epidemiological analysis.

Action plans for TB blackspots

Where higher levels of bTB are occurring in certain areas, the department will put in place action plans to address the risks and reduce disease spread.

Such plans will include actions such as investigating local factors driving the increase in areas, and what needs to be done to mitigate these; providing advice and info to herdowners; additional testing of at-risk and contiguous herds in the area; and holding stakeholder meetings.

Research on methodologies to identify such areas consistently will also be supported.

Changing regulations

The new EU Animal Health Law Regulation will come into effect from April 2021, with the new Irish bTB eradication programme set to be aligned with this and its requirements.

This will include for pre- or post-movement testing of cattle unless both the animal and the herd of origin were bTB tested in the preceding six months.

The eradication strategy says that, in Ireland, a phased implementation approach will be taken to this requirement. The initial focus will be on animals moving from herds that have had a breakdown in recent years.

Initially, animals from herds which have had a breakdown within recent years will require either a pre or post-movement test unless both the animals moving and the herd have had a test in the previous six months.

Inward movement of cattle into breakdown herds will also change, with movements into herds with bTB now able to take place, subject to restrictions addressing TB risks to newly-introduced cattle, prior to the herd completing a full clear test, as had been a previous requirement.

Badgers and deer risks

Under the plan, it is outlined that the programme will address the risk of badgers by continuing a programme of culling and vaccinating badgers, as well as identify and map badger setts. The department will provide advice to farmers and continue research on the risks posed.

Regarding deer the strategy will address risks through landowners culling deer subject to the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) regulations, the department facilitating groups to coordinate culling actions and improved communications on risk mitigation.