Animal Health Committee Asks USDA to Maintain Brucellosis Surveillance Program

Animal Health Committee Asks USDA to Maintain Brucellosis Surveillance Program

Billings, Mont. – Upon referral of a resolution from its Animal Health Committee – chaired by Missouri veterinarian Max Thornsberry – the R-CALF USA Board of Directors has adopted interim policy dealing with the continuance of the Brucellosis surveillance program. The organization also sent a formal letter to Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns that outlines the organization’s position.

“There is a significant problem with Brucellosis in elk and bison – particularly in Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming – which is becoming a problem for independent cattle producers in those states, and potentially in adjacent states,” said Thornsberry, who also serves as R-CALF USA Vice President and Region VI Director.

The first part of the Animal Health Committee’s resolution states that R-CALF USA supports Brucellosis testing of bison in the Yellowstone Ecosystem in an effort to eradicate the disease, but Thornsberry emphasized brucellosis is not just an issue for Western states. On a recent trip to Central America, Thornsberry discovered that Brucellosis continues to be a problem for the cattle industry in those countries, as local veterinarians estimated the incidence of the disease to be above 10 percent of the population of breeding-age cattle in some areas.

“Many of those countries export cattle to Mexico, and then subsequently into the United States,” Thornsberry noted. “Border states should be quite concerned about Brucellosis, and producers in those states should support continuing Brucellosis surveillance.

“But particularly in Western states, periodic cases of Brucellosis are identified in farmers’ or ranchers’ cattle because of cross-contamination with some wildlife species, and when you come up with an individual animal with Brucellosis, that state loses its Brucellosis-free status,” Thornsberry explained. “The Brucellosis surveillance program identifies these cattle and it works. The surveillance program is functioning as it should, but the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) are not taking any responsibility for the incidence of Brucellosis in wildlife. That stance is not acceptable to independent cattle producers and R-CALF members.”

“Traditionally, USDA has agency funds to assist states in conducting and maintaining a Brucellosis vaccination program, a blood-testing program at USDA-supervised livestock market facilities, and a Brucellosis surveillance program in slaughter facilities that slaughter mature breeding-age cows and bulls,” he continued. “Because a number of states currently are currently classified as Brucellosis-free – or perhaps have not identified a case of natural Brucellosis infection in several years – USDA has decided to stop Brucellosis testing and surveillance in some locations. In fact, funding for Brucellosis testing in Mississippi is scheduled to come to a halt in December, according to Mississippi State Veterinarian Jim Watson.”

Thornsberry said R-CALF USA’s Animal Health Committee holds the position that maintenance of a nationwide Brucellosis surveillance, vaccination and testing program would provide a proven, current and functional disease traceback system for cattle, without placing additional financial burdens and additional record-keeping burdens on independent cattle producers.

“The Brucellosis database system is already in place, and many states are currently involved in Brucellosis surveillance to some degree, with a well-trained class of dedicated people ready to continue administering the program,” he emphasized. “Our Animal Health Committee is simply asking USDA to continue a current program it now has plans to scrap.

Although the R-CALF USA Board of Directors recently implemented the resolution as interim policy, members will be asked to vote on the resolution next spring. Discussion of the resolution, as well, is scheduled for the Jan. 20 business session of R-CALF USA’s annual convention in Denver, slated to run Jan. 17 – 20, 2007, at the DoubleTree Hotel Denver, 3203 Quebec Street. For more information, contact R-CALF USA Membership Services Coordinator Jenni Ries at 406-252-2516.

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