Call for greater use to be made of TB blood test

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Waringstown dairy farmer Charlie Weir is calling on the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) to make greater use of the TB blood test, which has been trialled extensively in Northern Ireland over the past number of years.

“I was approached by the department a couple of years ago and asked if I would allow my cattle to be used in the initial trial work,” he told Farming Life.

“I agreed to this request without hesitation. Subsequently, I was told by department vets that the blood test is 95% accurate. This compares with a figure of 87% for the skin test. I have also been told that cattle develop a degree of immunity to the skin test over a period of time.”

Mr Weir went on to confirm that his herd was not locked up during the period of the initial trial work.

“But now I am,” he explained.

“Currently there are 650 cows in the milking group, not to mention all the followers at different ages that are on the farm. Yes I have been able to sell culls to the factory. But it’s fast getting to the stage when I will have to sell off my prime breeding animals to the factory.

“The cost of keeping the current levels of stock on the farm is mounting up ferociously. I have a number of freshly calved heifers to sell, but they cannot leave the farm as breeding animals because of the current TB restrictions.”

The Waringstown man went on to point out that he fully supports the Department of Agriculture’s campaign to eradicate bovine TB from Northern Ireland.

“But when I asked for the blood test to be used on the herd, as a means of getting me off the TB hook that little bit quicker, I was told no,” he stressed.

“Department staff cited cost grounds when it comes to them justifying this response. I just do not understand this approach at all.”

Commenting on these matters a DARD spokesperson said: “The blood test referred to is known as the Interferon gamma assay. Under European legislation, Member States can use it in addition to the tuberculin test to enable detection of the maximum number of infected and diseased animals in a herd.

“Following trials during the 1990’s and early 2000’s, it became part of DARD’s TB Programme during 2007. It is not currently approved as a replacement for tuberculin testing, but is used on the 1st day of the herd’s tuberculin test as a supplementary test in some breakdown herds.

“It is employed within practical limits determined by laboratory protocols, facilities and capacity. For this reason, it cannot be used in all breakdown herds, and herds must be selected according to certain criteria. These include both disease criteria e.g. numbers of reactors at last test, numbers of tests with reactors in a defined period, and non disease criteria e.g.herd size.”