The cost of not complying with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s bovine TB surveillance program is going up.
Last week, Rossburn-area rancher Rodney Checkowski was fined $2,500 in a Brandon court on two counts under the Health of Animals Act, one for failing to comply with notices under the act, and one for refusing to provide reasonable assistance to CFIA inspectors. Checkowski was convicted and fined $1,500 last spring on two similar charges after a standoff with the CFIA in 2008.
Provincial court Judge Krystyna Tarwid said she increased the fine in order to avoid setting a precedent of “lowball” penalties that might encourage other ranchers in the Riding Mountain Eradication Area to avoid TB testing.
“This is what happens when producers knock heads with the administration of programs,” said Tarwid, adding that the “evidence was clear” the defendant was guilty of both offences from a “purely regulatory” perspective.
Court was told that on Jan. 4, 2010, Checkowski refused to allow a team of CFIA officials onto his property unless they agreed to skip the standard caudal fold screening test for bovine TB and use a different test that only drew blood.
In his defence, Checkowski argued the test, which involves an injection of tuberculin into a fold of skin under the animal’s tail, had been making his cattle sick since surveillance testing began on his farm near the border of Riding Mountain National Park in 1983. He claimed it had led to the loss of 27 head over the years.
Checkowski said it wasn’t his intention to hinder CFIA’s efforts to eradicate the disease, but he felt compelled to take a stand because of his experience and those of neighbours, who also have had unexplained mortalities and sickness in their herds. He also complained that in three decades of dealing with CFIA officials on the issue, none ever “sat down with us and answered our questions” but they have been quick to call police to help them enforce testing orders.
“There is no evidence that the repeated injection of tuberculin doesn’t hurt animals regularly exposed to TB,” Checkowski said. “I don’t think it is a crime to protect the health of your animals.”
But the senior CFIA veterinarian in charge of the testing program testified the agency has considered the ranchers’ concerns about the safety of the caudal fold test, which involves injection of the TB protein.
Maria Koller-Jones said the tuberculin used in each batch is tested for potency and purity; is tested on guinea pigs for safety; and is sterilized by high temperatures. She said it is used without problems on “million-dollar bulls” used for artificial insemination, year after year.
“I’ve consulted other people, the literature, colleges, other countries and there is absolutely no evidence that tuberculin can cause disease,” said Koller-Jones. “I’m as confident as science permits that it is safe.”
In her decision, Judge Tarwid dismissed a letter from federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz ordering a “modified testing” protocol that Checkowski attempted to present as evidence. The judge said the letter only applied to the round of TB testing that occurred in 2007-08, not to the incident before her.
A paragraph from a veterinary medicine textbook that Checkowski claimed supported his view was also rejected.
“There is not a scintilla of evidence to bolster that,” said the judge. “A textbook is not enough. Just because the cattle waste away, it doesn’t come down to the test. There is no connection.”
Judge Tarwid said Checkowski and other ranchers in the area who suspect that something has gone awry with tuberculin-based testing should have “private testing” done to prove their claims.
“Unless the producers can get together and prove that with scientific evidence, testing will continue,” said Judge Tarwid.
Checkowski, 66, said he sold the last of his cattle in early 2010 and with only pension income to get by on, has no means of paying the new fine or the previous one.
Judge Tarwid said Checkowski could make nominal payments of $5 per month and apply for a payment period extension if necessary.
“Mr. Checkowski, don’t get into the cattle business again unless you like coming to court,” she added.
daniel. [email protected]
“Unlesstheproducers cangettogether andprovethatwith scientificevidence, testingwillcontinue.”
– judge krystyna tarwid