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BOVINE TUBERCULOSIS: North Dakota eyes stricter import rules for Minnesota cattle

The North Dakota Board of Animal Health will consider stricter requirements on Minnesota livestock coming into the state after it was confirmed Tuesday that a fourth herd since October was infected with bovine tuberculosis in northwestern Minnesota.

The North Dakota Board of Animal Health will consider stricter requirements on Minnesota livestock coming into the state after it was confirmed Tuesday that a fourth herd since October was infected with bovine tuberculosis in northwestern Minnesota.

The board will convene via teleconference Thursday in the state veterinarian's office in Bismarck to discuss the issue.

Minnesota animal health officials said they were unaware of the meeting when contacted by the Herald.

Minnesota could have its disease status downgraded as a result of having four herds test positive for TB within a 12-month period. Its cattle producers likely will have to adhere to new state and federal requirements, including more testing for livestock being shipped out of state.

The possibility of neighboring states imposing new rules of their own was something on the minds of cattle producers in Minnesota even before North Dakota's announcement.

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"That's the big concern because a lot of the cattle in Minnesota go to other states to feed," said Tom Pyfferoen, president of the Minnesota Cattlemen's Association. "They're going to issue their own import requirements and . . . we have to live with that."

State its case

Bill Hartmann, Minnesota State Veterinarian, said he'd like to see Minnesota officials have a chance to state their case before any decisions are made in North Dakota.

"We would expect that other states are going to change their requirements, but we would hope that they would allow us to offer them information about Minnesota and the reasons for what's going on here."

North Dakota has been free of bovine TB since the early 1980s, and cattle producers say they want to keep it that way.

"We have a generation that's been largely removed from the problems," Wade Moser, executive vice president of the North Dakota Stockmen's Association, recently told the Herald. "I don't know if people realize the kind of economic impact that happens when you have an outbreak like that or what it takes to resolve it."

There have been 11 cattle herds that have tested positive for bovine TB in Minnesota since 2005 - three in the past 30 days.

All of the herds have been found within a few miles of each other in southeastern Roseau County and northwestern Beltrami County in the northwest corner of the state.

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Split-state

Hartmann said Minnesota likely would see its status bumped down a notch from "Modified Accredited Advanced" to "Modified Accredited" as a result of the new disease confirmation.

The change briefly would affect all Minnesota cattle producers, until state agricultural leaders secure a split-state designation. If that's approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, all but northwest Minnesota would slip back to its current status.

"That does take some time, though," Hartmann said about securing split-state status.

New requirements under the lower status include testing breeding cattle within 60 days of shipment and testing the entire herd within the past 12 months, even if the animals aren't destined to move.

Currently, there's no bovine TB test required for so-called feeder cattle - those headed for slaughter - but the downgrade would mean those cattle would have to be tested before moving out of state.

Surveillance testing of dairy herds also might be required. Minnesota is working with the USDA to determine to what extent dairy operations might be affected, according to Joe Martin, assistant state secretary of Agriculture.

Costly impact

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Martin said the downgrade would have a significant economic impact on the cattle industry in the state as a result of the testing requirements.

"It's hard to put an actual number on it, but by our rough estimate, we are seeing over 200,000 cattle leaving the state, and the cost to test one animal is about $10 - that's $2 million right there," Martin said.

Pyfferoen said cattle producers also would have to add another $5 to $10 in veterinarian time per animal.

"It's going to change the way we do business," said Pyfferoen.

Hartmann said the state has stepped up its war on bovine TB by teaming up with University of Minnesota scientists to search for ways to eradicate the disease.

"We remain committed to eliminating this disease from the state of Minnesota as quickly as possible."

Beaten before

Minnesota has beaten bovine TB before. It last eradicated the disease in the 1970s, setting up a TB-free status that survived for 30 years. That string was broken in July 2005 when a herd belonging to Roseau County cattle producer Roger Skime tested positive for the disease near Salol, Minn.

It's believed that bovine TB came to Minnesota through imports from Texas. Before spreading to cattle, it was detected in wild deer in the state.

Minnesota's current status - Modified Accredited Advanced - is the middle step of a five-tier ranking system for eradication of the disease. It would take at least four years for Minnesota to get back to the highest level, TB-free, as long as there are no new occurrences in the meantime, Hartmann said.

The illness is not considered hazardous to humans because the disease is killed in infected meat during cooking.

DNR campaign

The state has set up a bovine TB management zone in Roseau and Beltrami County to closely monitor the spread of the disease. All of the infected herds have been found within this zone.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources provides special fences for that area to protect producers' cattle feed from deer depredation and to limit the spread of TB.

The DNR also has authorized specially permitted deer hunts around the TB management zone in attempt to control the disease.

Since 2005, more than 3,000 deer have been tested, with 13 turning up positive for TB.

Forty-six deer have been culled, so far, during a sharpshooting campaign in the management zone by DNR officials, according to Michelle Carstensen, DNR wildlife health program coordinator.

None of those deer show signs of lesions that indicate a TB infection, she said. All the specimens are being tested at a federal laboratory.

Carstensen said the DNR also has renewed aerial operations over the zone, searching for illegal feeding of deer. She said agents have noticed far fewer violations of the feeding ban lately.

"And that's a big change from before," Carstensen said.

The Associated Press contributed to his report.

Related Topics: AGRICULTURELIVESTOCK
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