Bovine TB case in North Dakota shouldn’t hurt exports

Farm Forum

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) – North Dakota’s first reported case of bovine tuberculosis in 14 years shouldn’t threaten the state’s federally designated “TB-free” status, state and cattle industry officials say.

The state has held that U.S. Department of Agriculture distinction since 1976, making it easier for ranchers to ship animals to markets out of state.

“That’s a big deal in terms of ability to export animals to other parts of the country as well as internationally,” said Julie Ellingson, executive vice president of the North Dakota Stockmen’s Association, the state’s largest rancher group.

North Dakota’s Board of Animal Health reported recently that a beef cow in a herd near the south-central North Dakota town of Solen had tested positive for bovine TB, a potentially fatal disease that spreads through inhaled bacteria. The cow came from Texas and moved through a seller in South Dakota, according to North Dakota State Veterinarian Susan Keller.

The infected cow was killed. The rest of the herd is being tested to make sure the disease hasn’t spread.

“We’re very optimistic that it probably has not, but to be safe we’re going through the protocol,” said board President Melvin Leland.

Neighboring herds will not be tested unless the disease has spread through the initial herd, he said. A state must have at least two herds test positive for bovine TB within two years to lose its “TB-free status.”

“At this point, it’s very doubtful that would happen,” Leland said. “I think we can be very, very comfortable that the animal health officials are on top of this, the people who owned the cow are being cooperative, there’s very little risk of the disease being spread in the area to neighboring herds.”

North Dakota’s last documented case of bovine TB was in 1999 in Morton County; that herd was destroyed. In 2009, officials thought a cow with a TB lesion at a meat processing plant in Long Prairie, Minn., had come from a herd in southwestern North Dakota, but further investigation proved that wasn’t the case, Leland said.

Health experts say there is little risk of bovine TB being transmitted to humans, but it can spread to wildlife, such as deer and elk. In 2008, bovine TB found in cattle and deer in northwestern Minnesota prompted North Dakota to restrict cattle imports from that state. The restrictions were first eased in 2010 and further relaxed in 2012, the year after Minnesota regained its “TB-free” status.

The North Dakota Game and Fish Department is not planning any special testing of wildlife in response to the infected cow. However, officials will be looking at deer samples already collected through an existing program to monitor for diseases such as TB and chronic wasting, said Jeb Williams, the agency’s deputy wildlife chief.