As Alberta begins to feel the repercussions of a confirmed case of bovine tuberculosis (TB), Manitoba looks to close its nearly two-decade-long chapter with live animal TB testing.
“As we witness what is happening in Alberta, it really shows how quickly this can take place and how fast it can affect the entire province. We certainly don’t want to go back there,” said Brian Lemon, general manager of the Manitoba Beef Producers.
Manitoba has been dealing with TB in the Riding Mountain National Park (RMNP) region since 1991.
In 2000, a task force for bovine TB was established to co-ordinate a program to eliminate the disease. This task force includes representatives from Manitoba Conservation, Manitoba Agriculture, Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), Parks Canada, Manitoba Beef Producers and the Manitoba Wildlife Federation.
“We are well into this year’s activities and two of the most significant things from past years are not on the table this year. No. 1, we are not doing any testing of domestic livestock herds and it is the first time in a long, long time,” said Allan Preston, lead co-ordinator of the RMNP TB eradication project. “And secondly, we are not doing any live capture of elk or deer in the core area of the park. We are relying instead on hunter-kill surveillance, so the absence of those two key activities tells you that we are well along the road to our ultimate goal of eradicating the disease.”
During the 2015-16 TB eradication program, 39 domestic livestock herds were tested, resulting in 4,300 negative test results. Approximately four herds were put under quarantine as the wet spring made pen conditions unfavourable for testing.
Hunter-killed submissions of 162 white-tailed deer, 74 elk and three moose were all returned negative. Seventy-three mature cow elk were live tested, all returning negative results.
Following this clean bill of health, CFIA announced this spring Manitoba would no longer need to undertake live animal testing through the eradication program.
“It has been a long, long road for us but it is not the time to take our foot off the gas and assume we are out of the woods either,” Lemon said.
When it comes to cattle, Preston says that as long as slaughter samples continue to come back negative, the eradication program will not conduct any live animal testing or any ongoing capturing of live animals in the coming years.
“On the wildlife side we still need a certain number of hunter-killed samples to make sure we are covering the bases and if we have less than an optimal number of samples coming in, we may have to go back into the park in January/February and capture some elk again at that point. That is still up in the air but it has not been the best hunting season, so we are waiting on that,” Preston said.
“Assuming we can keep that pipeline full of samples, and presuming that they all come back negative, hopefully we can stay in the situation where CFIA is happy with the numbers and doesn’t see any reason to go back to testing our herds,” Lemon said.
This announcement comes as an enormous relief to the producers who have been dealing with the burden of live animal testing year after year for nearly two decades. But, just as Manitoba’s affected producers began to take a sigh of relief, Alberta was hit with some devastating news.
Confirmed and quarantined
In late September, the USDA confirmed a case of TB at a U.S. packing plant in a cow originating from a farm near Jenner, Alberta. The index herd consisted of 52 head that lived on three separate premises.
Since the discovery, 34 farms in Alberta and two in Saskatchewan have been put under federal quarantine and CFIA has begun testing approximately 10,000 head of cattle.
According to Preston, who has been in ongoing conversations with affected industry members in Alberta, Manitoba producers have nothing to fear at the moment in regards to the situation in Alberta.
“The confirmed case in Alberta has had no impact on TB activity in Manitoba,” Preston said. “There has been references made to RMNP and the issues around here, but there is no connection between the two. If anything, RMNP is just an unfortunate reminder that these folks in Alberta face a lot of work to get their situation resolved.”
Preston explains that the strain of TB found in Alberta is entirely new to Canada and is said to have Mexican origins.
“That information tells us that there is no linkage to the situation around RMNP. Our situation is well in hand, we are quite comfortable with where we sit and I don’t foresee any changes,” Preston said.
The more jarring component of the Alberta situation however, may be the two-strike rule that is applied to TB.
“If you have one case, the clock starts ticking and if you go through 48 months without another case then the clock starts again. If you have another case come up in that 48-month period, there is the potential for all of Canada to have its TB status downgraded,” Preston said. “So the fact that we have this case in Alberta keeps people on pins and needles until such time that that 48-month period goes by.”