July 20th, 2018

Ranches quarantined over bovine TB

By Collin Gallant on October 28, 2016.

Thirty ranches near CFB Suffield are under quarantine as food safety officials test for bovine tuberculosis. In September U.S. inspectors found the disease in one animal shipped there for slaughter. Canadian Food Inspection Agency officials placed a herd on one Alberta property under quarantine earlier this month and Thusday confirmed the animal in question came from a ranch near Jenner. --NEWS FILE PHOTO


Thirty ranches near CFB Suffield are under quarantine as food safety officials test for bovine tuberculosis — a disease commonly carried by elk, which have been a long-standing point of complaint for area cattle producers.

U.S. food inspectors detected the disease in September in one animal that had been shipped into that country for slaughter. Officials at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency announced Oct. 19 they had placed the herd on one property in Alberta under quarantine for further testing.

A CFIA spokesman confirmed Thursday the animal in question came from a ranch near Jenner, about 100 kilometres northwest of Medicine Hat, and which borders on the massive military training facility.

There is an elk herd estimated at about 7,000 animals living on the base, blamed for ruined fences and pillaged crops on nearby farms for years.

This month, producers are also having their animals tested as a precaution to determine the source and extent of the problem.

“As additional information about the movement of potentially exposed animals is gathered, the CFIA investigation may involve additional locations and individual farms,” read a statement provided to the News.

Cypress-Medicine Hat MLA Drew Barnes has raised the issue of the elk herd in the legislature as recently as last spring, arguing the Alberta government had not done enough to control the elk population.

“It’s up to the government to ensure cattle and ranchers are protected and that consumers are protected,” Barnes told the News.

“It’s the fear of something like this that was the concern originally.”

He stressed Thursday that there is still no definitive answer about the source of the disease, that the situation appears to be “well under control,” but that ranchers are being put under stress.

Agriculture minister Oneil Carlier said his office does not expect market disruption or trade issues due to the detection. He has been in “close contact” with industry groups and federal agencies about the issue, he told the News.

“We know that the industry is strong and resilient,” he said. “We know that this is a challenging time for the affected producers, and our government continues to monitor this situation closely.”

Since the late 2000s, ranchers near the base have complained about the large animals coming on and off the military reserve to damage fences, eat crops and mingle with cattle.

As well, many felt the issue was caught in bureaucratic channels, with Alberta Parks and Environment in charge of the issue off the base, but the Department of National Defence in complete control of its land.

Provincial officials told the News early this year the elk population is about 6,700 after about 1,600 elk were killed by hunters during the 2015 hunting season.

Estimates are that without increased tags and special on-base hunts the herd size would be 10,000 by 2017.

About 200 elk were reintroduced at the 2,700-square kilometre military base in the 1990s as a matter of rangeland management, which up to 2013 also hosted cattle grazing.

Bovine TB is a chronic, contagious bacterial disease that in advanced stages presents as weight loss, fever and hacking cough. It can spread to humans, according to a CFIA fact sheet, though that is rare in countries like Canada which have eradication programs.

The most recent case of bovine TB detected in Canada was five years ago in British Columbia.

The disease is also present in elk and bison herds around Wood Buffalo National Park in Alberta and among elk at Riding Mountain National Park in Manitoba.

Producers in that province called for a cull to control the spread of the disease in 2011.

Producers around that park are still required to have periodic testing in order to manage the disease.

Livestock producers are eligible for compensation if animals are ordered to be destroyed.

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