The National Farmers’ Union (NFU) claims farmers remain concerned over the possible impact of changes to the bovine tuberculosis (bTB) testing regime, which will come into effect in England on May 1.

Testing could become uneconomic for some practices.

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, APHA will manage bTB testing in England through delivery partners who have tendered for the work and who will be responsible for allocating and monitoring testing in five geographical regions in England.

Minette Batters, NFU deputy president, said: “It is vital the changes are introduced as smoothly as possible with the minimum of impact on farmers. Throughout this process we have made our concerns very clear to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the APHA, and farmers remain concerned about how the changes will impact on their ability to continue to use their own vet.

“We are aware some vet practices have decided to opt out of providing testing services because the new payment structure and extra administration has made testing uneconomic for the practice. This will inevitably mean some farmers will no longer be able to use their existing vet, which will undoubtedly be a concern for them.”

She added: “The delivery partner responsible for each region has an obligation to provide testing services at no cost to the farmer and so any farmers in this position will be contacted with alternative vet practices.

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

“It is important that if the introduction of the new system leads to problems that result in overdue tests, farmers are not fined under cross compliance for something beyond their control. It is also important farmers ensure they have safe and efficient testing facilities available to ensure testing can be carried out in an effective and timely manner.”

Ms Batters added communication is key to ensuring the new system is introduced with the minimum of problems. She said: “It is vital the APHA makes sure it communicates regularly and clearly with farmers so they are fully aware of what is happening, why it is happening and what it will mean for them and their businesses. There needs to be a consistent approach across the whole country to ensure the process runs as smoothly and straightforwardly as possible, and this hasn’t been the case so far.”

Further information about what the changes will mean for farmers can be found on the APHA website.

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