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Success story: bovine TB fight

Sens. Rod Skoe of Clearbrook, left, and Steve Dille of Dassel check out charts during a Thursday Senate agriculture committee meeting in which senators received a report that bovine tuberculosis is being controlled. Staff photo by Don Davis

ST. PAUL - Minnesota senators smiled last Thursday when they heard about one of the few bright spots in the 2009 legislative session.

In a time when lawmakers must deal with a massive budget deficit affecting nearly every state program, Sen. Rod Skoe said it was good to hear that an aggressive state-run effort saved the state's cattle industry.

A dozen northwestern Minnesota tuberculosis-infected cattle herds threatened to bring economic ruin for cattle farmers across the state, but nearly four years after the first problem surfaced there is good news.

Senate Agriculture Committee members heard that TB-fighting efforts have succeeded and federal restrictions cattle producers faced in much of the state have been relaxed, but the state continues to monitor the situation.

"It has been a busy year, but a successful year," Joe Martin of the Minnesota Agriculture Department told senators.

Skoe received much of the credit from state agencies for his efforts to ensure state funding for programs ranging from killing TB-carrying deer to buying cattle in the affected area.

The Clearbrook Democrat that the state has spent $6 million to get rid of bovine TB, far less than it would have cost cattle producers if the disease had spread out of the small area of northwestern Minnesota that remains under strict restrictions.

Cattle in the rest of the state still are subject to TB tests.

"It is very difficult to know that you don't have any TB anywhere in the state," said State Veterinarian Bill Hartmann.

Fears that Minnesota cattle prices would plummet proved unfounded, Martin said. However, North Dakota and Wisconsin still require all Minnesota cattle to be tested for TB before they will accept them.

Had statewide restrictions remained, Hartmann said, all 250,000 Minnesota cattle that leave the state annually would need costly TB tests.

"We are on our way of getting rid of this disease," Hartmann added.

Sen. Steve Dille, R-Dassel, said government stepped up to fight TB. "This is an example of good government can do."

Senators from around the state said farmers in their areas put a high priority of eradicating TB because they knew the entire state would face economic problems otherwise.

The problem centered on Roseau and Beltrami counties, where the cattle herds and deer were found with TB. All area herds now are TB free, Hartmann said.

Hartmann suggested that without further infections, federal authorities could clear all of Minnesota in four years.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.