Federal money will boost Manitoba’s TB fight in cattle

A two-pronged strategy aims to reduce need for herd surveillance testing

Man speaking at a podium.

More money, this time from the federal government, is being poured onto the three-decade-long fight to eradicate bovine tuberculosis from the Riding Mountain National Park area.

TB co-ordinator Dr. Allan Preston, who has just been reappointed, said the pair of new initiatives announced last month are aimed at shifting the focus away from testing herds and more towards carcass-based surveillance at the slaughterhouse.

But to do that effectively, all farms in the area need to have premises identification, a unique number that allows officials to quickly identify the farm where the animal was raised.

Provincial government officials say that some 170 farms in the Riding Mountain Eradication Area have signed on for premises ID, but an unknown number of “refuseniks” have vowed that they won’t comply.

“I’m tired of dealing with them government guys already, to tell you the truth,” said Marvin Livetsky, a Rossburn-area rancher with 40 head of cattle.

“We’re the ones pulling the whole load on our backs, and they want to tack on some more yet. Enough is enough.”

Last month, Robert Sopuck, MP for DauphinSwan RiverMarquette, announced that $297,000 would be allocated over five years to the Manitoba Beef Producers (MBP) to improve the tools available for monitoring bovine tuberculosis in livestock in the Riding Mountain Eradication Area (RMEA) of Manitoba.

Second announcement

The announcement on behalf of federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz, came just a few weeks after Ron Kostyshyn, Manitoba’s minister of agriculture, food and rural development announced $150,000 over five years that would go to support efforts aimed at encouraging farmers to sign up for premises ID.

Preston, himself a cattle rancher, said that he understands and sympathizes with the so-called “refuseniks.”

“They’ve been through an awful lot. If I had to put up with CFIA every couple of years coming onto my farm and ordering me to test my cattle, and I had some consequences after that, I’d be grouchy too,” said Preston.

Although the authorities have significant legal powers at their disposal, Preston said he’s reluctant to use a “big stick” approach.

“We’re not there yet. We will continue to work with the bulk of the producers who see the advantages,” he said, adding that he hopes peer pressure and real progress in the TB fight will bring the dissidents back on side.

In response to emailed questions, MBP general manager Melinda German said that the federal and provincial programs will be “separate, but complementary.”

Federal funding will be used to put data collected from live animal testing, slaughter facility testing and on-farm risk assessments into a computer model that will assist with surveillance, while the provincial funding will be used to encourage rancher participation.

“We are still working out the details of the (provincial) program,” German wrote, adding that participation in both programs is voluntary, but premises ID is required.

Sickly cows

Livetsky is among those producers who believe that repeated tuberculin injections used in TB-surveillance testing cause pregnant cows to abort, produce sickly calves, and develop mysterious, lingering ailments.

He’s angry that $2 million a year has been budgeted for TB surveillance, and now a further $450,000 is going towards the new program, while ranchers receive no compensation for their losses.

“What has it cost us all these years, for all the animals that we’ve lost?” said Livetsky, who added that his parents’ herd, once numbering 40-50 head, is now down to 20-25 or so mostly sickly and virtually worthless animals.

He also accuses provincial and national livestock associations of not doing enough to help ranchers on the front lines of the decades-long fight. “As far as I’m concerned, the MBP and the CCA have done nothing for us up here. They hung us out to dry,” he said.

Preston said that the provincial funding represents “real dollars” that will flow to the ranchers, although he acknowledged that it doesn’t go far enough to fully compensate producers.

As for the herd health concerns, Preston said that he had contracted an independent, third-party researcher to search for evidence worldwide that repeated tuberculin injections via the two-stage caudal-fold test could cause disease or illness in cattle, and whether new testing regimes were available.

No evidence was found linking the caudal-fold test to sick animals, he said, and none of the alternative testing methods are likely to be ready within a five-year timeline.

“I’ve sat down with these guys to talk through some of these issues,” said Preston, who added that funding and resources has always been available to investigate their concerns if they requested it.

Sopuck also announced that Allan Preston’s one-year term as Manitoba’s bovine tuberculosis co-ordinator that began in December 2012, would be extended until late 2014.

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