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Brucellosis regulations: Time for change

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Casper – Written when cattle to cattle transmission was the primary concern, State Veterinarian Walt Cook says federal brucellosis rules and regulations need updated to reflect the modern day scenario where wildlife to livestock transmission poses the biggest risk for infection.
    “It doesn’t make any sense to ask a producer to depopulate his herd if the risk of infection is still there,” says Cook. “In the old days when you depopulated you got rid of the source of infection. With infected wildlife that’s not true, so it doesn’t make sense to force depopulation in a case like that.”
    Cook says he also doesn’t believe an infected herd that doesn’t transmit the disease to other herds, should cost a state its status as a brucellosis free state.
    Meeting with fellow state vets from Idaho and Montana in late June, Cook says there is agreement among the three that the federal rules and regulations regarding brucellosis need updating. Earlier that same week, when he met with leaders from the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service’s (APHIS) brucellosis program, Cook says he also found agreement on the need for change. APHIS, a division of the USDA, sets regulations surrounding the national effort to eradicate diseases including brucellosis and determines whether or not a state can be declared brucellosis free.
    USDA APHIS Area Vet in Charge Bret Combs says comments from any entity can instigate a change in rules if it’s warranted. Typically he says the U.S. Animal Health Association, which meets this fall, discusses potential changes before they’re pursued by his agency. Any changes must go through the federal rulemaking process.
    For the Daniel producer who recently had cattle test positive for brucellosis, potential changes won’t be fast enough. Any alteration in the rules would have to follow lengthy public processes and according to Cook could take years. Notification was sent to the producer on June 30 that he has 60 days to decide whether or not to depopulate his herd. If he doesn’t, federal regulations mandate that Wyoming will lose its brucellosis free status.
    Asked if there are any tools available that can be used to save the producer’s herd Combs says, “It’s not mandatory that the herd owner has to depopulate. He can try to test out of it. That’s really the only other option.” Such a choice requires testing until the federal agency is satisfied the herd is free of brucellosis, but it would still cost Wyoming its status as brucellosis free.
    Wyoming Stock Growers Association Executive Vice President Jim Magagna says the producer should have the option to test and then remove infected cattle without compromising the state’s status. “It doesn’t seem logical to me to tell a rancher he has to depopulate, but then he’s free to go out and buy cattle and start over next year.” He says an option that allows the rancher to maintain his current herd and genetics is in order.
    “We are going to request an extension,” says Cook of the timeline on which the producer must make a decision. The state will also request more time to carry out testing on contact herds, many of which are out to summer pasture. Asking for an October deadline, Cook says APHIS personnel has thus far seemed understanding of the fact that testing before fall would be extremely difficult.
    Cook notes that all of the contact herds have been notified of the need for testing. “If they haven’t been notified by us, at this point they’re not a contact herd. If we do find a second infected herd then we will have to test those contact herds, too.”
    Cook is less optimistic the agency will grant the producer’s request for an extension. Being able to make the decision after contact herds have been tested would be beneficial to the rancher. “If a second Wyoming herd is found to be infected with brucellosis in the next two years, the state will lose its class-free status regardless of whether the currently infected herd is depopulated,” says Cook.
    “When the state comes forward with those requests we’re going to look at them and give them our best evaluation,” says Combs. He says the decision is made above him and couldn’t offer any predictions as to the outcome.
    State vets from Wyoming, Montana and Idaho plan to meet again in September.
     Jennifer Womack is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at

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