TB testing by private veterinary surgeons resumed this week following the contract issues between DAERA and the Association of Veterinary Practitioners in Northern Ireland over the Easter holidays.

A DAERA spokesperson stated: “DAERA released the majority of the documents associated with the new contract to private vets on 27th March, with the final documents, which contained the pricing schedules, being released on 5th April.

“Against the backdrop of continuing budget uncertainty and severe financial pressures across all public services, the new contract is considered a reasonable offer at this time.“The previous contract expired on 10th April and to date some practices have signed up to the new contract.

“However, DAERA can confirm that TB testing was operating at a reduced capacity last week.

“DAERA advises herd keepers who wish to book a TB test to contact their veterinary practice,” the statement concluded.

A spokesperson for the Association of Veterinary Practitioners in Northern Ireland said: “DAERA issued the new contract only two working days before the old one expired, making a break in testing inevitable.

“Despite concerns with the new contract, in the interests of disease control, AVSPNI members do not wish to prolong the negative impact on the agri-sector that would accompany an extended break in testing.

“They have been reassured by DAERA that the inadequacies in this interim six-month contract will be addressed in the next one and as such, plan to resume testing as soon as DAERA waive financial penalties on vets associated with short-notice scheduling of tests.”

Previously, Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) president David Brown had confirmed the worrying reality that the incidence rate of bTB had been increasing steadily, reaching record highs.

He added: “Routine herd testing is a key part of the control programme and the shortest break can cause significant disruption, derailing our ability to suppress and progress towards eradication.”

Meanwhile DAERA has announced an expression of interest call in the latest move to tackle Bovine Tuberculosis (bTB), one of the most challenging issues currently facing the Department and the cattle industry.

The announcement invites companies to confirm their interest and ability to deliver the badger intervention element of the Strategy.

This is the first stage of the appointment process; any successful company would later enter a contract with the Department. Delivery would be on a not-for-profit basis with the farmer-led company funding the cull itself and the Department providing authorisation and oversight.

At this time, no cull has been authorised. This stage in the process enables DAERA to work with the appointed cull company in preparatory work prior to any cull taking place.

You can find more information and apply online on the DAERA website.

The closing date for receipt of completed Expression of Interest forms is 5pm tomorrow (Friday), 21 April 2023. Only those that submit an Expression of Interest will be eligible to submit a full application at Stage 2.