Calls to improve efficacy of TB skin test and ensure consistency in quality - Veterinary Practice
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Calls to improve efficacy of TB skin test and ensure consistency in quality

VETERINARY PRACTICE
looks through the summary produced by the AHWBE following its ‘call for views’ on ‘strengthening the TB eradication programme’

THE Animal Health and Welfare
Board for England (AHWBE) has
published a summary of responses
to its call for views on strengthening
the TB eradication programme and
new ways of working.

Published in December, it can be
read on www.defra.gov.uk/ahwbe/files/ahwbe-
btb-summary-responses.pdf. The
AHWBE says it will
“consider the output from the ‘call for views’ before
advising DEFRA Ministers
on possible changes to
strategic policy on TB
eradication in England”

There were 611 responses to the
“call for views” which ran from 10th
September until 19th October, with
134 people attending workshops, 336
completing the online survey and 141
written submissions.

The respondents came from a wide
range of backgrounds, sectors and
professions including beef and dairy
farmers, farming organisations, breed
societies, cattle health advisers, veterinary practices and professional
bodies, commercial companies, wildlife
groups and community land trusts,
local authorities, advice groups and
rural support networks, non-bovine
and camelid societies and keepers, and
members of the public.

The document says that a
consensus emerged showing strong
support for improving TB testing; both the efficacy of the TB skin test itself
and ensuring tests were conducted
consistently to assured quality
standards.

It continued: “There was some
support for carrying out more types of
testing while reducing other types, to
support disease control while tailoring
approaches depending on area- or
herd-disease risks. For instance, some
suggestions were for more annual surveillance, pre-movement testing
(PrMT) and post-movement testing
(PoMT) but less tracing and contiguous
testing, with no testing for animals if
moving to slaughter, either directly or
indirectly.

“There was some support for ‘risk-
based, targeted testing’ to make best
use of resources, such as reducing
testing in finishing units, but carrying
out more tests on breeding or ‘flying
herds’.

“There were several calls for a
reduced testing regime for farms with
high, assessable biosecurity standards
‘in return for’ reduced or zero
compensation for reactor animals.
Other ideas included compulsory
camelid testing and movement rules,
plus increased sheep/goat testing
particularly for large
flocks/herds, and to test
and cull infected deer.

Reduce ‘false
positives’

“Several vet responses
suggested extending the
‘short interval test’
period in high incidence
areas and/or large closed
herds, which would help
reduce costs and reduce
the number of ‘false
positives’. Some felt that
inconclusive TB reactor
animals should be re-
classified as TB reactors
in high risk herds, and
be treated accordingly.

“There were calls for
improvements to handling facilities,
and to fund innovations such as teams
with high quality mobile handling
facilities and trained staff to support
faster, accurate and less stressful testing
for farmers, vets and cattle. Many
responses felt that there should be
improvements to the Animal Health
and Veterinary Laboratory (AHVLA)’s
turnaround of test results.

“Some called for mandatory whole
herd slaughter in low incidence areas to
clear infection quicker and reduce the
time period of undetected infection,
while some pointed out that for some
farmers this would threaten the
viability of their business.”

Further on, the summary states:
“Ideas on dealing with different disease
risks included allowing farmers and
vets to manage the disease locally by
cutting out government and developing
private vet-led ‘local area management
programs’ based on ‘local knowledge
and expertise’.

“There were several quite detailed
responses on how each ‘TB risk area’
(high, low and the edge) should have
its own tailored approach, setting out a
clear framework for each area to define
the disease risk while ensuring farm
businesses are able to operate in a
financially viable way.”

In a section on “other ideas”, the
summary reports: “Many farmer and
veterinary responses covered wildlife
control including calls to lift the Badger
Protection Act with legal safeguards
against badger baiting provided by the
Wildlife Countryside Act, to license
farmers to deal with wildlife control
locally, to allow the use of the
polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test
to identify infected setts, look at using
oral contraceptive for wildlife control, and for industry-
funded badger
vaccination in low
incidence areas.

Re-introduce
‘clean ring’

“There were several
calls to re-introduce
the ‘clean ring’ badger
culling policy around
new TB outbreaks and
to bring back the
national roadkill
badger post mortem
survey which would
help assess the extent
of TB in wildlife.
More involvement of
wildlife groups in
discussions aboutwider TB issues to create a shared
understanding of the problem was also
proposed.

“There were many responses urging
for more funding and much faster
progress on cattle vaccine
development, and to look at other ways
round the EU legal issue such as
introducing a register of vaccinated
herds and only permitting trade
between these herds.

“Strong support was shown for
funding and developing more research
and development (R&D) into areas
such as TB links with other animal
diseases, the extent of TB in wildlife
carriers, developing and deploying
different and better TB diagnostic tests,
and the role of genetic immunity.”

There was strong support, says the
summary, for local private vets leading
or being much more integrated into
advice and support programs [sic],
including preventative work such as
designing and monitoring on-farm

disease strategies with the
farmer. Many responses
said that vets with local
knowledge were best
placed to give guidance.

Other responses said
that anyone with ‘vested
interests’, namely those
who could potentially
profit from other services
delivered, should not act
in an advisory capacity and
that ‘independence is key’.

There were calls to roll
out dedicated support
programmes such as the
South West TB Farm
Advisory Service (SWTBFAS)
nationally, as many respondents felt the
individual, tailored and practical
support offered by the SWTBFAS was
effective. There were some opposing
views in the south-west questioning the
money spent on SWTBFAS.

Bespoke advice

Several responses highlighted the
need to ensure TB advice was
evidence-based and independently
delivered, and called for streamlining
of different information sources.

Other ideas included more local,
bespoke advice services such as “TB
Champions”, accredited local vets
offering consistent advice who could
also mentor “at-risk” farms. There
were calls for “regional eradication
boards” to be set up linking
stakeholders and drawn from those
with knowledge of, or affected by, TB
who could provide education and
support.

In answer to the question, “Who
do you think should give advice to
farmers after a breakdown?” many
responses said local vets should be
part of the solution and play the
biggest role in post-TB breakdown
support, including case management.

In stressful situations for farming
families, it was felt the existing trust
and relationship between vets and
farmers could offer emotional
support as well as practical help. Vets also offered advice
on other areas of
animal health and
farm practices, and
could therefore
offer a more
joined-up approach
to supporting
farmers in
addressing disease
risks.

Closer working
between AHVLA
vets and OVs was
highlighted as an
area for
improvement, to ensure a coherent and unified
approach in breakdown cases. Some
felt that OVs should play the greater
role, taking charge of the outbreak
and the post-breakdown monitoring
period.

To the question “If you could
make one change to the way in which
TB is current [sic] managed by the
government, what would it be?”
responses said that changes and
improvements could be made to the
testing regime, including introducing
annual or two-yearly testing for all
herds and improving testing
sensitivity.

Immediate re-tests

Further suggestions included
immediate re-tests for doubtful cases,
reducing the number of days between
tests and reduced shut down periods,
PrMT of all livestock and allowing
farmers to arrange tests with their
own vets.

Tighter movement controls and
more information for farmers on the
cattle they were purchasing should be
introduced to protect ‘clean areas’.
PoMT and regionalisation could also
be introduced.

The management of TB could
also be reassessed, including ensuring
devolved governments adopt a
consistent approach, establishing a
dedicated agency or an industry-run
board to deal exclusively with TB and increasing local control of TB and
risk assessments. Introducing cattle
vaccination, more efficient removal
of reactors and compensating
farmers for consequential losses were
also mentioned.

  • 22% of responses were from vets,
    veterinary practices and veterinary
    professional bodies (including a joint
    response from the BVA and BCVA
    and one from the Cornwall
    Veterinary Association); 36% from
    farmers or farm organisations and
    related groups and 36% from
    commercial companies and members
    of the public.

Practices which responded
included Alnorthumbria Veterinary
Practice, Broughton Veterinary Group, Camlas Vets, Cliffe Veterinary
Group, EC Straiton & Partners, Four
Crosses Vets, George Veterinary
Group, Kingsway Veterinary Group,
Lambert Leonard & May Vets,
Longbridge Veterinary Services,
Marches Veterinary Group, Pelyn
Vets, Penbode Vets, Riverside
Veterinary Centre, Shires Veterinary
Practice, Shropshire Farm Vets, St
David’s Farm Practice, Stapeley
Veterinary Practice, Starnes &
Gatward Vets, Swale Vets, The Green
Veterinary Surgery, Three Rivers Vet
Group, University of Liverpool Farm
Animal Practice, Westover Vets,
Westpoint Veterinary Group, White
Lodge Veterinary Clinic and Wright
and Morten Veterinary Surgeons.

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