TB-related restrictions continue to take a toll on California producers

Jun 5, 2009
by WLJ
TB-related restrictions continue to take a toll on California producers

The detection of bovine tuberculosis (TB) at several central California dairies last year led to a downgrade in the state’s TB status, however, it’s not just dairymen who are paying the price.

Originally, it was TB-positive cattle at just three Fresno County dairies in early 2008 that led to the status downgrade from Accredited Free to Modified Accredited Advanced last September. While dairy producers have been heavily impacted through testing and monitoring by the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA), as well as USDA, beef producers have not been left out of the mix when it comes to the burden of testing cattle.

To date, CDFA says eight cattle in four dairy herds in Fresno and San Bernardino counties have tested positive for the zoonotic disease, but CDFA estimates 395,000 cattle have been TB-tested, two herds depopulated, more than 8,000 cattle killed, and upwards of $20 million spent in the TB investigation.

Unfortunately for beef producers in the Golden State, the testing regimen also applies to beef cattle leaving the state, which is especially noticeable this time of year as many producers are pulling their cattle off California grass and shipping to other states.

Many western states have made exemptions for California beef cattle being transported to feedlots or pastures in other states, but many producers feel the rules are complex and often hard to follow.

“Each state has such different rules that if you have cattle going to as few as two states, you may have a lot of paperwork to sort through before you know whether or not you have to test,” said California producer Duane Martin of Ione, who says he ships nearly 20,000 of his own cattle in and out of the state annually.

Martin said thanks to an exemption coordinated through the state of Montana and the California Cattlemen’s Association (CCA), he was fortunate that he didn’t have to test some of his cattle going to grass in Montana, but that is not to say he hasn’t had to face extra burdens because of California’s TB status downgrade.

“I still had to run all of my cattle going to Montana through the chute to put a metal clip in their ear to show they are from California,” Martin said. “I didn’t have to test them, but the stress of gathering and run ning through the chute is the same on the animals and the possible shrink that results isn’t good for me, my cattle, or for the buyer.”

In addition to the burden of testing cattle, Martin said he has had a lot of buyers simply not buying California beef cattle because of TB, regardless of whether they are tested or not. “When buyers are not bidding, prices are going to be lower, and that is something that is hitting beef producers hard regardless of what part of the state they are in, even if TB hasn’t been in their area of the state,” Martin said. CCA Executive Vice President Matt Byrne said the association has been active in working with the federal government as well as states throughout the West to see that beef producers are impacted as little as possible.

“We have been working tirelessly at many levels, not just here in California, but ranchers nationwide need to see change in the Federal Tuberculosis Program,” said Byrne. “First, we are working for program change at the federal level where California is going to be out of “TB free” status and subject to restrictions. In the shorter term, we are working to ensure we are minimizing export restrictions to states to which feeding stock and breeding stock are being sent.” Byrne also said the association has worked to notify beef producers of the requirements of individual states, as the requirements are made and often changed.

Though he said the cost of a TB test may only be about $4 to $5 per animal, the cost to producers in terms of labor is much higher. With each test taking 72 hours to perform, the cost of gathering cattle twice, keeping them close during the duration of the test, and getting the vet to your operation twice, this is really where the costs add up for beef producers, Byrne said. “What we would like to see is first and foremost a better and more accurate TB test produced, but when it comes to the Federal TB Program which was implemented in 1917, we would like to see it focus more on areas that are high-risk, rather than only on state borders,” Byrne said. “In California, we have beef herds that are 600 miles away from the areas where TB was detected, yet those cattle still require TB testing or an exemption permit before they can travel less than 50 miles to another state.”

“Each time a new case is found, the clock starts over. If we have to go six years without a positive test, we may never be TB-free again under the current federal program,” Byrne said. CDFA Bovine Programs Lead Veterinarian Anita Edmondson said, “It is unfortunate that TB has impacted all cattle producers but that TB doesn’t differentiate between types of cattle, as has been seen in Nebraska (last) week.” California’s current classification by USDA as Modified Accredited Advanced, with a few exceptions, federally requires that intact cattle older than 6 months leaving California have a negative TB test within 60 days prior to interstate movement—and some states have additional requirements.

According to Edmonson, producers and their veterinarians must check the TBtesting requirements of the state of destination at least a week before moving cattle out of state. TB tests are required for breeding cattle leaving California, except cattle moving under a pasture-to-pasture permit and cattle from Accredited Free herds.

USDA does not enforce the TB test requirement on feeder cattle, however, some individual states require them to be tested. Some states exempt the test on feeder cattle moving to feedlots approved for feeding cattle in slaughter channels.

A special “TB Test Exemption Permit” has been developed between California and Colorado, Washington and Montana to exempt some feeder cattle moving in feeder channels, including pastures, from their state requirement of a TB test. Edmondson said these permits can be requested from California or the destination state and must be approved by both states before cattle can be moved.

According to the most recent TB update from CDFA, the permit requires that feeder cattle: originate from an area of California that is not linked to a TB investigation; have not commingled (occupied the same enclosure) with Mexican origin cattle; bear official individual identification; shall not occupy common grazing enclosures with breeding cattle in the destination state; have a NAIS Premises of Origin Identification Number; have a NAIS Premises of Destination Identification Number (Colorado only); shall remain in slaughter channels; and are brand inspected at the premises of origin. — WLJ