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Feature Report:
Bovine Tuberculosis discovered in Cherryville
Wild elk, helping themselves at a cattle feeder.
Where’s the beef:
Can we trust the system?
July 2, 2011 – By Don Elzer

Riding Mountain National Park (RMNP), Manitoba, is home to a population of free-roaming elk that have been found to be infected with Bovine TB. The disease has also been found in a number of cattle herds near the Park and, as a result, Manitoba has been assigned a split status for Bovine TB. A number of government agencies, with input from representatives from the wildlife and agricultural sectors, have responded by devising a program to detect, investigate, control, eradicate, and prevent TB in both wild and domestic animals – however this ongoing process has begun to impact farmers in the eradication zone who must put up with “absolute and utter misery” and are being driven out of business.

Through many years
of sustained effort and a
number of program iterations, Canada’s Bovine TB eradication efforts paid off in 1997, when all Canadian cattle herds that were not under quarantine were recognized by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) as being TB-Free for the purpose of their import requirements. This designation freed Canadian exporters from the time and expense of testing and holding cattle for 72 hours before shipping them to the USA.

However, with the discovery of Bovine TB in a number of cattle herds in Manitoba in 2002, caused the USDA to reinstate the requirement for a negative intradermal tuberculin test for all sexually intact cattle more than 4 weeks of age that either originate from, or have resided in, Manitoba, prior to the animal being exported to the USA. Only those animals that are sexually neutered (steers and spayed heifers) or that are destined for immediate slaughter at a plant approved to receive imported cattle are exempt from this testing requirement. Although most of the outbreaks occurred in the vicinity of Riding Mountain National Park (RMNP), this requirement was imposed on cattle being exported from the entire province.

When and where bovine TB first originated in the RMNP area is the matter of some speculation. There are theories that the cause was linked to bison which were first introduced into the Park in 1931 from a herd at Wainwright, Alberta. The cattle herds surrounding the RMNP could be another source of Bovine TB. For many years, local ranchers were allowed to pasture their cattle in the Park during the summer, a practice that was not halted until 1970. At times, in excess of 2000 cattle grazed there and it is possible that Bovine TB may have been inadvertently carried into the Park, thereby exposing the native cervid (e.g., Elk, Deer) population to the disease

The first report of Bovine TB in wild elk in Canada occurred in 1992, when an elk shot near an infected cattle farm was discovered to be infected with M. bovis. When another. infected cattle herd was found in the same vicinity in 1997, a joint federal-provincial wildlife surveillance program was initiated whereby primarily hunter-shot elk, deer, and moose were screened, sampled, and tested for Bovine TB. Between 1991 and 2003, there were five outbreaks of Bovine TB in cattle in Manitoba, all but one of which have occurred in the vicinity of the RMNP. The exception, in 1996, involved a single infected animal from outside the area that was detected during an individual animal test for export to the USA.

The outbreaks in 1991 and 1997 were uncovered through routine slaughter surveillance programs in Canada and the USA, respectively, and subsequent trace back investigations led to the infected herds of origin. Those in 2001 and 2003 were discovered as a result of CFIA’s on-farm area testing program. The herd in 2001 was tested because of its proximity to a positive hunter-shot elk, while the herds in 2003 were discovered during the farm-to-farm testing of all cattle and farmed bison herds in a special TB eradication area that was established around the Park in January 2003. In a separate incident, a cull cow that originated from Manitoba was found to be infected with Bovine TB at routine slaughter inspection in the USA in 2001. Because the animal bore no identification as to its herd of origin, 20 possible herds of origin were investigated and tested. No infection was discovered in any of these herds.

Bovine TB testing as a risk?
Farmers within close proximity of Riding Mountain National Park have developed suspicions about how CFIA tests cattle for Bovine TB. Rodney Checkowski from Rossburn, Manitoba which is near the park argued for over a decade that his cattle got sick after they were tested. On April 16th, 2010 a Manitoba judge ruled that Checkowski doesn’t have the right to refuse tuberculosis testing. Judge John Combs found Checkowski guilty of refusing to present his cattle for testing and fined the cattle producer $1,500 for the offence.

On June 6, 2008, employees of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency wanted to test Checkowski’s cattle for TB. But the producer kept his cattle in the pasture away from the farm that day, so CFIA workers were unable to conduct the tests.

Robert Keffen, a CFIA veterinarian in Brandon told the Western Producer that of the 650 cattle producers in the CFIA’s TB eradication zone around Riding Mountain National Park, three have refused to have their animals tested.

Checkowski, who argued his case without a lawyer, said that since 1983, animal health officials have quarantined cattle on his farm four times and destroyed 27 because they were infected with TB.

In addition to those losses, Checkowski said he was forced shoot several animals over the years because they went off feed and became lame after CFIA employees tested his herd for TB. He believes that the tuberculin test was causing his cattle to contract TB or become ill.

But according to CFIA veterinarian Maria Koller-Jones his theory is scientifically impossible.

“I’m not aware of any situation where the tuberculin injected has caused TB,” she said in court.

Koller-Jones, heads the agency’s Bovine TB eradication program and she told the court that Tuberculin is made from a dead Myobacterium bovis bacterium, the organism that causes TB. The organism is heated to a high temperature, similar to pasteurization, thereby killing the bacteria before the tuberculin protein is extracted.

“(It’s) biologically impossible for that protein to cause TB,” she said.

But in the spring of 2008, Checkowski was convinced of the link between the TB tests and the poor health of his herd so he asked the CFIA to test 12 of his cattle using a test where tuberculin is injected into the animal’s neck.

After those tests in March 2008, one bull reacted to the test and it was removed from the farm.

A couple of days after the test Checkowski said he noticed five animals got sick.
Checkowski concluded they were TB positive.

Koller-Jones refuted Checkowski’s argument in court, stating it’s improbable that experienced CFIA staff would miss several positive reactions to the test.

The CFIA then wanted to test the rest of Checkowski’s herd on June 6.

The cattle producer said he never actually refused testing and would have allowed it if the CFIA first removed the five cattle he believed were reactors and if they used the neck skin test along with a blood test.

In his ruling, Combs said Checkowski was guilty because he lacked authority to tell the CFIA which animals were positive and how the agency should conduct its business.

In a separate case, Nick Synchyshyn who farms 14 kilometres south of Riding Mountain National Park, was fined $3,000 for refusing TB test on his cattle. Combs ruled that Synchyshyn, failed to make his herd of about 50 cattle available for testing when CFIA employees visited his farm Dec. 30, 2008.

The Checkowski case is still a work in progress and is currently retuning to the courts. Federal Liberal Agriculture Critic Wayne Easter, who has had many conversations with Checkowski, said that conflict between ranchers and the CFIA occurs because nobody at the agency “seems to want to listen” to the people in the eradication zone who must put up with “absolute and utter misery” and are being driven out of business.

“Yes, they have the authority. No question about that,” said Easter. “But instead of working with people, they come in with a big hammer and it’s ‘our way or the highway.’ If there’s other ways of doing it that still provides the proper testing, they should be looked at.”


Read the original Checkowski story by Robert Arnason of the Western Producer
What farmers should know
about compensation
July 3, 2011 - By Don Elzer

As the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) continues testing for Bovine TB in the Cherryville area, local livestock producers will continue to be stressed as they wonder if tests will lead to their individual herds. Some herds are presently quarantined as part of the testing process, while others are not.

If Bovine TB is found within an individual animal in a herd, it could mean that it could be destroyed as well as the entire herd. If this happens CFIA traditionally pays fair market value for the loss of each animal which is destroyed within a Bovine TB event.

The tougher questions surrounding compensation are linked to the losses that livestock producers encounter as their herds are quarantined. Businesses are frozen, unable to sell livestock or even add to their herds.

Producers need to know that while the CFIA compensation is limited, additional compensation funds can be captured if local producers make their case to a variety of agriculture-based agencies.

In fact, in mid June documents surfaced in Parliament that shed some light on the number of times the federal cabinet has had to deal with special requests for farm support.

The documents were copies of Privy Council orders based on cabinet decisions, where they approved 30 requests from Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz to authorize spending of $1 billion under the Farm Income Protection Act in the three years leading up to February 18, 2011.

In a report by Barry Wilson in the Western Producer, he outlines that the regular hat-in-hand appearances by Ritz, “…gives substance to the old Parliament Hill joke that when cabinet sees the agriculture minister arriving, finance ministers try to find a back door exit - it also illustrates the dizzying array of farm disaster requests an agriculture minister brings before his largely urban cabinet counterparts”.

It appears as though Ritz has received the farm disaster funds by approval from cabinet, spends the funds, but then afterwards the requests are sent to the House of Commons Agriculture Committee for examination if it chooses. The requests range from national and large sums, to extremely local requests for assistance.

On Feb. 18, 2011, cabinet approved spending up to $21.7 million to help drought-affected Peace River livestock producers and flood-affected northeastern Saskatchewan livestock producers buy feed. Two months earlier, $10.8 million was approved for flood-affected Manitoba producers.

In August last year, $276 million was authorized to help waterlogged prairie farmers. Three months earlier, it was $33 million for producers affected by droughts.

In September 2008, spending approval set $6.12 million aside to help Manitoba livestock producers "affected by drought or late-season flooding."

In April 2009, there was $3.2 million to compensate Prince Edward Island potato farmers affected by floods and $15.1 million a year earlier to Alberta potato farmers affected by potato cyst nematode.

In June 2009, there was $3.3 million for Quebec potato farmers affected by golden nematode.  

There were large amounts for the ailing hog industry: $404 million in September 2009 to guarantee financial institution loans to hog producers and $50 million in 2008 to the Canadian Pork Council to administer the breeding swine cull program.

Then there were the small, specific requests for government money to help individuals or small groups of producers.

In May 2010, cabinet approved spending $56,700 "to assist poultry producers in British Columbia whose flocks were destroyed following an outbreak of avian influenza."

On July 4, 2008, the government approved $111,690 "to assist cattle producers in B.C. affected by bovine tuberculosis."

A year later, the minister was back asking for a bit more on the TB file for one more B.C. producer. Cabinet approved $51,000 "to assist a cattle producer in B.C. affected by the special measures taken as a result of the discovery of bovine tuberculosis."


Read some of the source material
in the Western Producer