The use of new PCR tests to confirm bovine TB infection is to be expanded after the success of the tests in an initial rollout.

The new method reduced the time taken for government laboratories to report results to livestock keepers from up to 22 weeks to just three weeks.

This meant that in certain situations, if the PCR test results were negative, APHA could lift herd movement restrictions much sooner than the previous protocols allowed.

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The validated PCR test can detect the bacterium responsible for bovine TB directly from tissue samples collected at post-mortem inspection.

APHA said that it would now expand PCR use to post-mortem tissue samples taken from cattle that tested positive for bTB, direct contacts, and privately or compulsory slaughtered or dead animals with a skin test result that is inconclusive.

APHA chief executive David Holdsworth said the development was a significant step for the agency.

He said: “We know waiting for TB results can be a stressful time for farmers so reducing the time for results to be delivered has been a key focus for APHA.

"I am pleased that we have progressed to rolling out the PCR test to cover even more bovine TB samples and cut the time it takes to report these crucial results to livestock keepers to just three weeks."

UK Deputy Chief Veterinary Officer Ele Brown said timely and reliable testing was essential in halting the spread of the disease.

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"The initial rollout of the PCR test has shown a tenfold improvement in testing turnaround time," she explained.

“I am pleased that its use will now be extended even further, ensuring that APHA can continue its vital role in detecting disease on farms, and give farmers earlier certainty of disease in their herd.”

Bovine TB is the most difficult and intractable animal health challenge faced today, costing taxpayers around £100 million every year.