TB fall-out? Thanks anyway... Winter 2016

TB fall-out? Thanks anyway...

    Atlantic Beef & Sheep has kept pretty close track of the Bovine tuberculosis story as it unfolds in Alberta and Saskatchewan (see “TB Investigation continues,” by Heather Jones, page 4), through reports from Agriculture & Agrifood Canada, CFIA (Canadian Food Inspection Agency), and accounts on-line and in the mainstream press. By chance we had the opportunity to sit down with Rich Smith, executive director of Alberta Beef in the organization’s sumptuous, well-positioned digs, down the hall from the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association’s Calgary office and within sight of “Cow Town’s” airport. 
    This was Nov. 29, the day after 12 more premises were added to the six in the proximity of southwestern Alberta already under quarantine. “The worst possible time,” Smith observed, just as ranchers were selling off the annual crop of calves. Had TB in that cull cow – sent to slaughter due to some undisclosed reproductive issue – been discovered most any other time, several months of quarantine would not have posed near the degree of interruption or potential cost. 
    How could one diseased cow from one ranch cause such havoc? Because the winter of 2015-2016 that cow was on a neighbouring ranch. Then, last summer, cattle from her home premise went to a community pasture where they could mingle with hundreds more. 
    Many questions come to mind. Some, like the source of the infection, may never be satisfactorily answered. This, despite the fact that the Mexican strain of TB has never before been found in Canada, “in either domestic animals or wildlife,” Smith pointed out.  When first word came that TB had been discovered, many, like Alberta Beef’s ED, cast an eye north, to Wood Buffalo National Park where the disease has been known to exist for years among wild bison (introduced, it is believed, long ago through association with domestic cattle that carried the disease).
    Not this time. 
    When disaster strikes, be it a flood, earthquake, or epidemic, it is almost a sure thing those affected will soon be raging at the cold-molasses pace of government or NGO response. It was not long coming in the aftermath of this episode. “CFIA caught flatfooted...” read the headline over a story in the on-line journal ipolitics out of Ottawa Nov. 8. The agency’s response “took way too long,” writer Kelsey Johnson quoted Alberta Beef board chairman Bob Lowe. “It was September 22 when CFIA found out that there was a TB cow in the States and now it’s November seven or something and we still haven’t killed any reactor cows.”
     Now it is December, more than a month since TB was found. While CFIA has picked up its game, with five teams field-testing thousands of head of cattle, ranchers do not yet know how soon promised aid under AgriRecovery will arrive. Each day they wallow deeper in debt carrying cows slated for “depopulation,” and calves under a year of age (too young for the initial skin test) that may be moved to “terminal feedlots.”  
    Under the framework, producers may recoup at least some of their losses. They may be reimbursed the market value of cattle destroyed; the costs of sending calves to feedlots, and expenses incurred cleaning and disinfecting premises.
    “Market value” however, will doubtless come way short of the loss, real and emotional, of liquidating a line of cattle developed over years, decades, even generations of ranchers. I mentioned the value of bulls when speaking with Rich Smith. Yes, he acknowledged, and some cows as well, their value well above what they might bring at auction. 
    Other questions come to mind. What might we expect in the way of new regulations in the aftermath of this incredibly expensive Bovine TB episode? Is it hysteria mongering to suggest CFIA will seek to implement tighter management of community pastures?
    On the East Coast we are far away from tuberculosis in Alberta and Saskatchewan, but also far from immune from possible fall-out. BSE, never found in Atlantic Canada, nevertheless hit us just as hard with the double-whammy of lower commodity prices and costlier levels of precaution. Let’s hope there’s not a repeat.
A Merry Christmas to all. DvL