“We haven’t abandoned these producers.”
– RAY ARMBRUSTER
Alocal director for the Manitoba Cattle Producers Association says he shares the frustration of ranchers in TB Alley over the lack of progress toward bringing the disease under control.
Ray Armbruster, who runs a 150-head operation just north of Rossburn, has experienced the stress producers face first hand. He lost a herd after a positive bovine TB case was found in his herd in 1997-98.
But he said the MCPA has been working “exhaustively” behind the scenes lobbying government on behalf of ranchers.
“I know exactly what they are saying. I think they needed to tell their story,” said Armbruster, referring to a series of articles that appeared last week in the Manitoba Co-operator that highlighted the anger and frustration of local ranchers after up to three decades of TB testing.
“We haven’t abandoned these producers,” said Armbruster, who now chairs the MCPA’s animal health committee. “There’s a whole host of issues that we’ve been trying to address around the issue of TB testing and compensation.”
The root of the problem in the minds of local producers, he added, is the lack of political will to provide financial and technical support for ranchers who are in the “unique” position of being asked to carry the burden of fighting bovine TB on behalf of the entire industry.
“We’ve lobbied the government for more backstop, in support and compensation around testing, quarantines, lost marketing opportunities,” he said.
Producers have done their part, he added, by co-operating with the testing process only to be faced with false positive results, stress on cattle, and quarantines lasting for months on end, all of which has only added to the immense strain and “huge losses” suffered by their operations post-BSE.
Efforts to make assistance programs like Agri-Recovery work for producers in such cases have “gotten nowhere” with both federal and provincial officials, he said.
“We can test these cattle over and over again, and eradicate continuously, but as long as there is a reservoir of disease in wildlife that presents a risk to the livestock industry, testing will go on forever. That’s the reality.”
The MCPA, he added, has tried to help ranchers figure out what’s causing mysterious ailments in their herds, by “opening the door” for free transport and testing of sick animals at provincial veterinary labs.
“We can’t drag them there. We can’t force them,” he said. “But we haven’t ignored this issue.”
Not everyone in the RMEA has had bad experiences with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency officials, he said. Some positive comments have been received in the evaluation survey forms that MCPA sends out to all producers in the area, post-testing.
“(The CFIA) comes to the farm and bears the brunt of the producer’s frustration. They have a strong, powerful mandate to do their job and they do it,” he said.
“Not testing is not an option. We’re export dependent in Manitoba.”
Armbruster, who is also a director with the Canadian Cattlemens’ Association, said that at the CCA’s semi-annual meeting last year in Regina, he asked federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz to “jump-start” eradication efforts in the RMEA.
Ritz later formed a senior working group made up of representatives from provincial and federal departments as well as stakeholder organizations, and a report is rumoured to be ready for release this summer that Armbruster hopes will result in a renewed, collective effort to get the TB eradication strategy back on track.
“To my knowledge, that report is in the minister’s hands with recommendations to move the whole process forward in a positive way,” said Armbruster. [email protected]