It’s been 10 years since a cow tested positive for bovine tuberculosis in Manitoba.
Since then, thousands of cows have been tested in and around Riding Mountain National Park to see if TB is present in the region.
Finally, after years of mustering herds and testing animals for TB, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is satisfied that Manitoba is free of bovine tuberculosis.
On July 1, the USDA removed a requirement that Manitoba breeding cattle and bison be tested for TB before export into the United States.
“This USDA decision… is very good news for our sector,” Manitoba Beef Producers president Ben Fox said in a statement.
“It is a testament to the diligence of the producers in the RMEA (Riding Mountain Eradication Area), as well as the efforts of many other stakeholders, that we have achieved this long sought-after result.”
Bovine TB has been a challenge for Manitoba cattle ranchers for more than two decades. The cases of TB infection were concentrated in an area around Riding Mountain National Park, and herds were destroyed to contain the disease. In the early 2000s cattle producers proposed a cull of the elk herd in the national park because infected elk were transmitting the disease to cattle herds.
That didn’t happen.
Instead, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency set up the RMEA, which is a special surveillance zone. For more than 15 years CFIA staff tested hundreds of cattle herds in the eradication area.
The agency stopped its testing program in 2016 “because they were convinced that we had done enough testing … to prove we didn’t have it in our commercial herds,” said Brian Lemon, MBP general manager.
Eventually, the USDA was also convinced.
“Manitoba had its last case of bovine tuberculosis in 2008 — a long 10 years later,” said Allan Preston, the province’s TB eradication co-ordinator.
“The USDA has recognized our TB free status, and all federal (U.S.) restrictions on Manitoba breeding stock moving into the U.S. have been lifted.”
The change won’t have a huge impact on Manitoba ranchers who sell purebred and commercial breeding stock because the number of animals exported to the U.S. is relatively small.
As well, individual states may still require TB testing for imported cattle. The USDA ruling doesn’t apply to state regulations.
“For example … Nebraska says if you’re bringing breeding stock in, they don’t care where you’re bringing it from, it needs to be tested,” Lemon said.
“(But) now our animals are on a level playing field.”
The USDA decision is positive news, but cattle producers around Riding Mountain haven’t forgotten about bovine TB.
They will continue to use guardian dogs and barrier fences to reduce the risk of contact between elk and cattle, Lemon said.
“To mitigate, where possible, any risk.”