The cattle in quarantine cannot be sold, and Ottawa is offering financial assistance with winter feeding costs
Financial assistance will be available to help Alberta and Saskatchewan ranchers cope with expenses from having cattle in quarantine during a bovine tuberculosis investigation.
Federal Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay made the commitment Nov. 24 in the House of Commons.
“I am pleased to confirm that, working with the province, we are committed to compensate these ranchers for the costs they are facing, including interest on their advance payment loans,” MacAulay said.
Details of the financial assistance had not been released at press time Nov.28. Alberta Agriculture Minister Oneil Carlier said the provincial contribution would come in the form of Agri-Recovery funds.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency said Nov. 25 that it has expanded the source herd investigation to six farms from three and that no new positive cases of TB had been found beyond the six already confirmed in previous weeks.
It said about 22,000 animals and 40 ranches are now involved in the quarantine: five of them are in Sask-atchewan and the rest in Alberta.
CFIA also said it is working with producer groups to arrange for calves to be moved to a feedlot where they can be fed throughout the coming months while the investigation continues. Location and details of that are still being determined.
MacAulay’s response in the House of Commons was made two days after three southeastern Alberta ranchers, each with herds in quarantine, appeared before the House agriculture committee to explain their situation and ask for help.
Brad Osadczuk of Jenner, Alta., appeared in person and Ross White and Warren Henry presented via video from Calgary.
Osadczuk had one cow confirmed with TB in September, prompting an investigation by the CFIA that led to his and other ranches being quarantined.
Since then, five more animals have been confirmed as infected, and testing on an estimated 18,000 animals continues. The process is expected to take months.
Osadczuk said it is costing him $92,000 per month to feed 400 of his 1,200-head cow herd that is in quarantine. He said he and other affected ranchers are overdrawn on their bank accounts because they are unable to sell animals to pay the bills.
White told the committee that he was unable to reach the CFIA for 10 days when he wanted information on when his herd would be tested.
He had pre-sold his calf crop in early October but was forced to renege on the contract because his herd is quarantined. As of last week, he hadn’t yet weaned his calves, which he said is causing his cows to lose body condition and is overtaxing available pasture.
He is also worried about overcrowding, higher risk of illness and potential calf loss from having to handle cows numerous times in the testing process.
“This is truly a disaster.”
White wondered whether land values in the region would fall as a result of the TB cases and whether ranchers in that region would have difficulty marketing their cattle in the future.
The three ranchers said the CFIA has not been forthcoming with information, and despite the willingness of veterinarians in the province to help with testing, the CFIA has refused those offers. Testing is slow as a result, they said.
“We don’t want a hand out. We don’t want free money,” said Osadczuk. “We don’t want anything we don’t deserve. I feel almost embarrassed to be asking for money.”
Existing programs are not sufficient or quick enough to help ranchers who are in immediate need, added Alberta Beef Producers chair Bob Lowe, who also appeared at committee.
“It’s all too slow and a lot of it is based on loans,” he said.
Added White: “We don’t need a loan. We need money to pay for expenses.”
White said he would be broke by spring unless there is assistance with feed costs.
ABP has been trying to arrange for calves to be moved to a feedlot where they could be fed until their fate is determined by the CFIA.
The federal ag committee voted Nov. 22 to send a letter to MacAulay requesting assistance for the affected ranchers. Six Conservative MPs also sent their own letter Nov. 22 asking the federal government to provide interim funding before winter sets in.
They asked that the CFIA allow local veterinarians to assist with testing as a way to speed up the process, and that timely and accurate information be provided by CFIA to the affected ranchers.
“We are aware that the CFIA has established an emergency re-sponse team in Ottawa with staff on the ground in Alberta, but the reality is ranchers are not aware of it and are far from receiving the help they need,” the letter said.
In a news conference Nov. 25, CFIA deputy chief veterinarian Jaspinder Komal acknowledged complaints about communication. He said the agency is working to provide each affected rancher with a dedicated contact, and it will continue twice a week conference calls with industry associations.