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Beef gets big boost from feds

WORTHINGTON -- The U.S. Department of Agriculture on Thursday issued a federal order that will allow beef producers in modified bovine tuberculosis zones to transport their breeding animals across state lines without undergoing costly TB testing.

The news is positive for beef cattle producers in Minnesota especially, which has been under split-state status since Oct. 10, 2008. Minnesota had been a TB-free state up until 2005, when tuberculosis was discovered in a beef cattle herd in northwest Minnesota. Since then, 12 herds in Beltrami and Roseau counties have had confirmed cases of the disease.

"The important part is that we haven't found an infected herd for over a year now," said Bill Hartmann, executive director of Minnesota's Board of Animal Health (BAH) and state veterinarian. "We continue to test 300 herds every year in that modified accredited area of the state, and we haven't found any infection in over a year."

While no beef cattle in southwest Minnesota were ever found to have TB, producers remain under a Modified Accredited Advanced (MAA) status. Until Thursday's announcement, they had to test any breeding stock before it was transported across state lines.

"There may be some states that have different import rules," Hartmann said, adding producers will still need to check with states regarding their policy.

Most impacted by Thursday's ruling are states that are not currently TB-free. In addition to Minnesota, they include Michigan, California and New Mexico, and more recently South Dakota, Nebraska and Texas.

Under the federal order, it will be easier for cattle producers in those states to move their animals across state lines, even if TB is present in their state.

The federal order means:

- An end to automatic downgrading of an accredited free state or zone to a MAA state or zone when TB-affected herds are found, as long as the state meets certain criteria for preventing the spread of the disease;

- An end to movement restrictions for cattle and bison that are not known to be infected with or exposed to TB from a MAA state or zone, as long as the state meets certain criteria for preventing the spread of the disease; and

- Increased surveillance in part or all of a state or zone and/or movement restrictions as required by the APHIS (Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service) Administrator to address risks from TB in wildlife or under other circumstances to prevent the spread of TB.

Hartman said the federal ruling comes after quite a bit of work by the USDA and state veterinarians.

"We had a meeting out in Denver and we brought together cattle groups, state veterinarians, USDA and cattle marketers," Hartmann said. "We all agreed that the program, as it stood, worked well to get us to where we are -- where there's very little TB in states.

"But to continue to downgrade status, everybody was in agreement that federal regulations needed to be changed," he added.

The federal order is an interim step, and will take the nation's cattle producers through the next two years. By then, the federal government is hoped to have completed modifications to TB rules to be "more appropriate."

Hartmann said millions of federal and state dollars have been spent on eliminating bovine TB in the state. Since Minnesota's change to Modified Accredited Advanced status, veterinarians have been reimbursed at a rate of $8 for each animal required to have the TB test.

Though the producer didn't have to pay for the testing, Hartman said they endured labor costs in getting animals rounded up and assisting the veterinarian.

Stacey Gravenhof, a rural Rushmore cattle producer and president of the Rock-Nobles Cattleman's Association, was pleased by the announcement. As a cattle breeder, he had a veterinarian scheduled to visit the farm this morning to administer TB tests on some stock that will be transported across state lines.

"For us, it's a big deal," he said of the federal order. "Anytime you sell an individual bull, you have two veterinary service calls, plus the $8 fee. They have to first administer the test and come three days later to read the test. On an individual animal, it gets pretty expensive."

Larger breeders, including those who conduct production sales, also had to deal with the stress on animals when rounding them up for testing. Because of the three-day lag between the testing and obtaining the results, testing was done ahead of the sale.

"It's not worthwhile to test the whole herd when only certain (animals) cross the state line," Gravenhof said. Still, a lot of producers in southwest Minnesota have stock crossing state lines into Iowa and South Dakota.

"I just think this is great news for Minnesota," added Hartmann. "We think this is the right thing to do to eliminate TB and to concentrate our resources (on the modified accredited zone in Minnesota). It's very good news for the country, too."

Julie Buntjer

Julie Buntjer joined the Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at

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