By Jack King
Bovine tuberculosis has been found in two dairy herds in Roosevelt County, which means the infected animals must be destroyed and beef and dairy cattle owners statewide could lose money, officials said Thursday.
Because of the diagnosis, the U.S. Department of Agriculture will downgrade New Mexico from “bovine tuberculosis free” status to “modified accredited advanced” status, under a TB rule adopted in 2000, said Caren Cowen, executive director of the New Mexico Cattle Growers’ Association.
The downgrade means that instead of being able to move cattle out of state with only an inspection from the New Mexico Livestock Board, owners moving breeding cattle out of state will first have to test them for TB, Cowen said.
The test requires putting each animal in a chute and giving an injection as part of a TB test. Three days later, the animal must be put back in the chute to read the test. The process will require extra care for the animal and even finding a large-animal veterinarian to do the test could be a problem, she said.
“While this reclassification will have virtually no impact on consumers of beef and/or milk in New Mexico or elsewhere, it will have tremendous impact on livestock producers in the state,” said Phil H. Bidegain of Tucumcari, president of the Cattle Growers’ Association.
Rich Miller, general manager of Oppliger Land and Cattle near Clovis, said he doesn’t think the change will be that great.
“It’s not going to change our business any. New Mexico hasn’t been a TB-free state that long. It could mean going back to a quarantine yard, but we’ve only gotten away from quarantine yards within the last five years. It’ll affect dairies more than feed lots,” he said.
According to USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, bovine tuberculosis is a highly contagious and can be spread from cattle to humans and other animals. Once the disease has been detected in a herd, the herd must be quarantined and all infected animals must be destroyed, APHIS said.
State veterinarian Dr. Steve England said only three animals in Roosevelt County have been diagnosed with TB, although once the diseased has been identified, the herd must be quarantined, he said.
Neither England, nor Dr. Michael Greenlee, head of APHIS’s New Mexico office, would identify the Roosevelt County herds where tuberculosis has been diagnosed.
England said no date has been set for putting the change in New Mexico’s bovine tuberculosis status into effect. Texas, California and Michigan have also lost their status. When Texas lost its status it took the U.S.D.A. a year and a half announce the change, he said.
“We figure it’ll be a little quicker here, but we don’t know,” he said.
Cowan said that under the federal rule New Mexico must develop a plan outlining the steps it will take to regain the TB-free status. Developing the plan may take up to a year and USDA approval of the plan may take another year, she said.
The federal rule allows for “regionalization” of the area within the state where tuberculosis has been diagnosed. Once a regionalization plan is approved by the USDA, only livestock within the designated region would require testing, she said.
The New Mexico Livestock Board will decided whether or not to regionalize at its June 20 meeting in Ruidoso, she said.
In a joint release, Sen. Jeff Bingaman and Rep. Tom Udall said developing and implementing a TB testing program will cost about $3.2 million. They requested that the USDA give its full support to New Mexico agencies developing the program and said federal funds should be made available to any producer forced to destroy animals to combat tuberculosis.