Proposal 3 - Use of primary/secondary tags for tissue tag sampling
Where cattle keepers use tissue tagging to ascertain an animal's individual BVD status, the use of the primary/secondary cattle identification tag for sampling is considered to be best practice. Use of the primary/secondary tag ensures that calves are sampled early in life, thus allowing early PI identification and removal. Cattle also benefit from better welfare due to fewer tags in ears. Use of primary/secondary tags, or management tags carrying the official identification number, also reduces transcription errors on the submission form and at the testing laboratories.
We sought views on the proposal to allow only primary/secondary tags for all tissue sampling, including animals born on a non-breeding holding. This proposal would mean that tissue tagging would be restricted to calves of up to 28 days old, and that older animals would have to be individually tested by blood sample. Provision would need to be made for samples that have provided insufficient material for testing or given inconclusive results, or other failures due to factors beyond the keeper's control.
Question 9(a): Do you think that all tissue tag sampling should be carried out using only a primary/secondary tag?
59% of respondents thought that all tissue tagging should be done using a primary/secondary ("official ID") tag, 27% thought not. Reduction in transcription errors and early detection of BVD positive calves were identified as important benefits. However, there were 17 comments (24% of respondents, including some "yes" and "don't know") pointing out that management tags are very useful addition to the farmer's testing options.
Figure 10: Do you agree that all tissue tag sampling should be carried out using an official tag?
Question 9(b): If not, do you agree that "not negative" herds are restricted to only using primary/secondary tags?
The 61% of respondents who answered this question generally reiterated their comments to 9(a). Some noted that limiting the testing options dependent upon herd status could be counter-productive, due to increased complexity for both cattle keepers and enforcement agencies.
Figure 11: Do you agree that "not negative" herds are restricted to only using primary/secondary tags for tissue sampling?
Question 10: The proposed restrictions to tissue tag sampling would limit tag testing to calves in the first 28 days of life. If keepers wish to test older animals, should they be permitted to use management tags for this purpose?
Respondents were fairly evenly split on this question: 50% said that management tags should be available for sampling older animals, 40% said that they should not be used. Respondents who agreed with management tag use placed a lot of value on allowing the farmers to use management tags for older cattle, citing the advantages of cost savings and convenience over the alternative of blood sampling by a vet. 21% of respondents felt that use of management tags led to transcription errors and in some cases fraud. One of those who disagreed with the use of management tags for older animals highlighted the value of veterinary involvement during BVD breakdowns.
Figure 12: If keepers wish to BVD test older animals, should they be permitted to use management tags for this purpose?
Question 11: Would you agree that management tags used for BVD sampling must be printed with the animal's official identification number?
66% of respondents agreed that management tags should be printed with the official ID number, 23% disagreed. Several respondents pointed out that using the full official ID number on a management tag would result in illegal tagging. This could be solved by omitting " UK" from the ID number. 16% of respondents thought that use of the official ID number would improve identification and reduce fraud, 18% thought that it would reduce transcription errors. A typical comment was "this would help with avoiding identification errors which will ensure the correct identification of PI animals". However, 16% thought that there would be no advantage, and 14% respondents highlighted disadvantages, such as delays due to ordering specially printed tags and the inconvenience of matching tags to animals. One respondent said "it would increase time and effort and pre planning on the farmers behalf, which may lower the uptake of the tags"; another pointed out, "More complicated system and makes management tags more difficult to read for farmers and staff."
Figure 13: Should management tags used for BVD sampling be printed with the animal's official identification number?
Question 12: Where the tissue tag has failed to produce a sample that is suitable for BVD testing, should management tags be allowed for re-testing or should the animal be resampled by the private veterinary surgeon?
The yes/no answers for question 12 were ambiguous due to poor drafting, however most respondents clarified their answers with comments.
Analysis of the comments showed that 31% of respondents said that tags should be allowed for resampling, 39% said that resampling should only be done by the vet. From the available information, those respondents who said re-testing should be done by the vet were a mixture of all respondents ( i.e. not just the vets). Among the reasons for continuing to allow re-test by tagging was to reduce delay in re-sampling (3% of respondents) "delay is the enemy in disease control", and to avoid penalising farmers for tag failures (4%). 3% of respondents said that farmers could be trusted to resample animals with tags when the previous tag has failed. Reasons for requiring a veterinary sample were the benefits of veterinary advice (3%) and the welfare aspect of preventing repeated ear tag application to one animal (7%). NB the BVD (Scotland) Order already restricts use of management tags for sampling to a single application, thus the maximum number of BVD tags that can legally be applied to a bovine is two (one primary/secondary tag and one management tag).
Question 13: Where a virus positive animal is re-tested to establish whether it is a PI or only transiently infected, should the re-test sample be limited to a blood sample taken by the vet or is it acceptable for the keeper to re-sample using a management tag?
As with question 12, the yes/no answers to question 13 were ambiguous due to poor drafting. Fortunately, most provided comments and 76% of respondents were in favour of restricting confirmatory testing of PIs to tests carried out by the vet. A typical response was "Reduces risk of error and gives an opportunity for more advice". The reasons given were the benefit of veterinary advice (7% of respondents), the prevention of fraud (20%) and the reduction in errors (14%). 10% of respondents said that tags should continue to be permitted for confirming a PI, with one (1%) providing an explanation (cost saving). One of the pro-blood testing respondents also highlighted concerns about imposing costs on cattle keepers: "We would consider that follow-up blood sampling by a vet the ideal approach to ensure correct traceability. We do accept that this adds extra cost to the producer however".