Livestock Health Program: An Integrated Approach to Protecting Animal Health
To Wyoming’s agricultural community, springtime is a harbinger of renewed life and hope. We know that clear thinking, hard work and tenacity can bring prosperity to our families and respect from the nation’s consumers. At the same time, readers of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup are aware that livestock producers are at a major crossroads regarding our ability to detect, trace and control disease in Wyoming’s livestock.
To address this enormous challenge, the Wyoming Livestock Board (WLSB) is actively engaged with livestock owners, elected officials and the citizens of the state. As a member of the WLSB, a cattle and sheep producer and veterinarian, I am submitting this article to help lay the groundwork for an informed and thoughtful discussion about an integrated approach to protecting animal health.
It’s important to mention that the Wyoming Legislature’s Joint Agriculture Interim Committee will review and consider animal welfare statutes and consider disease outbreak response and notification systems prior to the 2009 session. We greatly appreciate their interest.
Wyoming Livestock Board
The principal responsibility of the WLSB is to “protect the livestock interests of the state from theft and disease” (W.S. 11-118-102). This broad mandate is further defined by numerous specific and implied duties. Structurally, the WLSB is comprised of seven livestock-owning members, with each member representing a different district of the state. Board members are appointed by the Governor and approved by the Senate for six-year terms. The Director/Chief Executive Officer and State Veterinarian work on behalf of the WLSB to carry out statutory duties and to supervise staff.
In order to protect the health of livestock and thereby maintain access to interstate and international markets, the WLSB must have the ability to respond effectively to an animal-disease outbreak. In addition, some animal diseases have human health implications, another dimension of significant importance.
But first, I would like to briefly mention two issues; one to address a potential distraction and the second to provide some clarity.
First, there has been extensive media coverage of the National Animal Identification System (NAIS) and the acrimony surrounding it. Due to this controversy, the WLSB believes we should focus our energy and resources on developing an integrated Wyoming Livestock Health Program. To this end, the WLSB will stay apprised of the NAIS developments and advocate for Wyoming’s interests as necessary.
Second, each state establishes its own laws, rules and regulations for the export and import of domestic animals, including health and identification requirements. The federal government plays a complimentary role via its role in the regulation of interstate commerce and the control of specific diseases through various programs.
Now, to the heart of this article.
Our Existing Programs
Wyoming has three programs upon which an integrated livestock health program can be based: the Brand Recording and Inspection Program; the Certificate of Veterinary Inspection Program; and the Reportable Disease List.
A. Brand Recording and Inspection Program
Traditionally, the primary role of the WLSB’s brand program has been to prevent theft by ensuring the shipper or seller has legal ownership of all livestock to be shipped or sold. With few exceptions, all Wyoming livestock must be brand-inspected prior to crossing any county or state line and at all ownership changes. At present, the computerization of the brand program is underway.
B. Certificate of Veterinary Inspection Program
The export of Wyoming livestock to any out-of-state destination requires a Certificate of Veterinary Inspection (CVI) issued by an Accredited Veterinarian. Likewise, all out-of-state livestock destined for import into Wyoming require a CVI.
When a CVI is issued, the Accredited Veterinarian is certifying that all shipped livestock meet the import requirements of the destination state, including any testing and identification requirements (which vary from state to state). Additionally, the livestock owner or agent must verify the animals are “certified and listed on the certificate.” Many times, the destination state also requires a pre-entry permit, for animal health reasons.
C. Reportable Disease List
Currently, the WLSB is revising the Reportable Disease List (RDL) that will contain descriptions, standards and protocols for each listed disease. The RDL includes a variety of diseases, ranging from zoonotic (contagious for humans) to endemic (present in nature) and will be designed to protect the health of animals and humans in Wyoming.
Developing the Wyoming Livestock Health Program
Livestock producers and Wyoming citizens generally agree that Wyoming should develop an integrated livestock health program. To reach this objective, the WLSB is considering the augmentation of the Brand and CVI Programs to improve access, reliability and accuracy. By coupling these two programs with the Reportable Disease List, Wyoming will lay the foundation for a world-class livestock health program.
Certainly, the cooperation of individual producers and the industry itself will be critical to our success in implementing a fair and effective Wyoming Livestock Health Program. But for now, we need to keep our eye on the ball and develop a good program that reflects your input and suggestions.
Any serious discussion about the health of Wyoming’s livestock also raises other issues, such as the critical role and current shortage of veterinarians, not only in Wyoming, but across the nation. Another concern is the considerable number of endemic diseases in Wyoming and the risk they pose to livestock-export markets during an era of increased scrutiny. These issues are further complicated by major limitations on Wyoming’s ability to diagnose and pursue research on important diseases, due to federal regulations and outdated facilities.
There are two more thoughts I must share with you.
First, the WLSB is firmly committed to its statutory principles of confidentiality and authenticity. Within the context of a livestock health program, confidentiality means that information can be obtained only by those authorized to access it and can be utilized only for its intended purpose. Authenticity, on the other hand, means that information really comes from the source it claims to come from and is verifiably accurate. With unwavering dedication, the WLSB will make every effort to implement these important principles.
Second, I would like to highlight the remarks of Dr. Van Wie at a Feb. 2008 legislative reception. In the face of disease such as Foot and Mouth Disease, Dr. Van Wie challenged Wyoming’s livestock producers not to “die” but to “survive.” Those in attendance will remember that Dr. Van Wie presented the sights and sounds of some very painful realities; a motivational appeal to action. That evening, the primary issue for some in attendance was NAIS, a “die” issue. The WLSB believes that we need to transform this kind of energy into a discussion about our desire to “survive” and even thrive.
Today, Wyoming is unprepared to handle the challenge posed by a significant disease threat. We can remedy this predicament with reliable information, clear communications and a transparent decision-making process. If we develop a Wyoming Livestock Health Program, changes to our current practices are foreseeable. Yet the WLSB is optimistic that if we can focus on goals and solutions, we will ultimately develop the nation’s finest livestock health program. Our success will ensure the wellbeing of our individual animals, the state’s livestock industry, and Wyoming’s citizens.
We, the Board and staff of the WLSB, welcome your participation. To that end, the WLSB is hosting listening sessions on May 14 in Riverton and Aug. 13 in Douglas during State Fair. Detailed information will be forthcoming. Written comments are welcome anytime and should be directed to Jim Schwartz, WLSB, 2020 Carey Avenue 4th Floor, Cheyenne, WY 82002. For more information about the WLSB, please visit http://wlsb.state.wy.us/ or call 307-777-7515.
Dr. Eric Barlow of Gillette is a veterinarian, rancher and member of the Wyoming Livestock Board. He can be e-mailed at Barlow@vcn.com.