ARCHIVE: Bovine TB: Testing and controls

Photo of cowsTesting for bovine TB

As set out in the Government strategic framework for the sustainable control of bovine tuberculosis (bTB) in Great Britain, the Government will pursue effective cattle surveillance and control measures which will be delivered efficiently and provide good value for money.

We test cattle to find those infected with bTB. This is done for three reasons:

  • To protect public health
  • To prevent bTB spreading to other cattle or other animals
  • To make sure that cattle do not suffer because of bTB.

Information on the tuberculin skin test procedures.

Changes to TB in cattle testing policies

Complying with TB controls can result in burdens for farmers, e.g. providing the manpower needed to facilitate cattle testing.

We are making some adjustments to TB testing protocols in England that reduce burdens for farmers without increasing disease risks. These will also deliver some modest savings to the taxpayer.

The changes, summarised below, build on measures introduced over recent years.

Reduced testing of new/re-formed herds

In situations where restocking is not triggered by a recent herd slaughter due to extensive TB spread, we are replacing the requirement for an immediate TB test (and 2 further annual tests), with a single test to be completed within 12 months of the first animal arriving. The original rationale for the previous more onerous testing policy (i.e. to deal with risks caused by the suspension of TB testing during the 2001/02 FMD outbreak) is no longer relevant.

Stopping TB testing of young calves

Calves under 6 weeks old will be exempt from TB testing - except in herds where a risk of infection is identified in young animals. This is consistent with EU law, which does not require TB testing of young cattle.

Rationalise post-breakdown testing in certain unconfirmed breakdowns

Low risk unconfirmed breakdown herds in 3 and 4 year testing areas will require a single post-breakdown test (as opposed to two check tests). This approach is more proportionate to the disease risk.

Rationalise and reduce the amount of contiguous testing

Testing of herds contiguous to a confirmed breakdown herd forms part of the initial epidemiological investigation – to check for onward spread to neighbouring farms and whether other herds in the area may have been exposed to a common source of infection (wildlife). The changes comprise:

  • in annual testing areas – testing of neighbouring farms will be carried out if a veterinary risk assessment (completed in all cases) concludes there is an epidemiological link with the breakdown herd.
  • in 2 year testing areas -  neighbouring herds will be tested immediately, with a further check test after 12 months; and
  • in 3 and 4 year testing areas – neighbouring herds will be tested immediately and then (provided tests are clear) revert to the regular routine testing interval for the area. Further contiguous testing will be considered by Animal Health on a risk basis.

Developing and Strengthening Controls

Government regularly reviews policies to ensure they reflect current scientific thinking. We have consulted on modifications to the testing regime and to tuberculosis legislation.

Government keeps control on bTB as it can spread infection from one animal to other animals. It can be introduced onto a farm in many ways, such as:

  • Bringing an infected animal onto a farm;
  • Contact with other species which can carry bTB; or
  • Indirect methods, such as contaminated equipment.

Defra and its agencies have introduced controls and testing to limit the spread of the disease.

The Veterinary Laboratories Agency (VLA) has produced a report analysing the comparative field performance of tuberculins (PDF 164 KB) produced by VLA Weybridge and by Dutch manufacturer ID Lelystad between 1 January 2005 and 31 March 2007.

Gamma interferon test

In August 2006, the Government announced further action to improve the testing of cattle for bovine TB. The announcement included details of an increase in the use of the gamma interferon diagnostic blood test, alongside the current skin test, since October 2006. Further information on this can be found in the gamma interferon pages of this website.

Review of bovine TB testing procedures in England and Wales

In August 2006, the Government published the report of a review carried out by DNV Consulting (PDF 317 KB) into bovine TB testing procedures in England and Wales. The review did not find anything to fundamentally undermine the validity of the existing TB testing programme, but did identify that there was widespread non-compliance with certain instructions.

Some of the detailed review findings do cause Defra concern and we are working closely with Animal Health (formerly SVS) and the veterinary profession to address these. The report has identified that there is a clear need for government to enhance TB testing audit/assurance procedures. We will also be working to introduce more robust performance monitoring systems.


The Tuberculosis (England) Order 2007 explains pre-movement testing regulations, clarifies and strengthens the powers of Defra for dealing with incidents of bTB, in respect of movement restrictions on herds where an official diagnostic test has not been carried out by the due date. It defines “bovine animals” to include buffalo and bison, and is designed to improve the surveillance of cattle TB by enabling Defra to follow up cases where bTB is identified by a laboratory example of a sample taken from any mammal (other than man). The Order also states the role of the Secretary of State in relation to the use, and results of, diagnostic tests for bTB. This Order also clarifies and strengthens permitted movements in and out Approved Finishing Units, Exempt Finishing Units, Collection Centres and markets. More information on legislation is available.

Routine Surveillance Testing

Cattle are tested every 1, 2, 3 or 4 years depending on how widespread bTB is in a particular region.

Cattle Movement Testing

Statutory pre-movement testing of cattle was introduced in England in March 2006 and in Wales in May 2006. Pre- and post- movement testing of cattle was implemented in Scotland in September 2005.

Additional TB testing for movements of bovine animals into Scotland was introduced at the end of February 2010 as a result of Scotland being granted Officially TB-Free status.

Further information, including requirements for cattle owners, is available on the pre-movement testing pages of this website.


The Meat Hygiene Service inspects all cattle sent for slaughter.

Page last modified: 5 January 2011