It’s a recurring problem that Cam Dahl, general manager of the Manitoba Beef Producers, is intent on stamping out.
Since the early 1990s, bovine tuberculosis has wreaked havoc on wildlife and livestock herds around Riding Mountain National Park.
“In the last 20 years, we’ve lost herds because of TB,” Dahl said.
They’ve also lost producers, Dahl said, as producers surrounding the park have exited the cattle industry at four-times the provincial average.
Dahl, who was in Birtle on Friday as part of a 14-stop tour of town-hall meetings with producers, said the issue came up as a concern for many of the producers in the area.
Since the discovery of the disease in Elk in the park, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency has created a TB surveillance program working with several organizations to test more than 10,000 samples of wildlife from hunters, according to Manitoba Conservation and Water Stewardship.
The CFIA has also tested cattle heards in regions where the disease has been identified or suspected.
“If the CFIA says you have to test your herds, you test your herds,” Dahl said. “It causes a significant amount of stress on the animals and a significant amount of cost to the producer.”
Producers aren’t compensated by any level of government for the costs of the testing regime, which is estimated at about $14 per head, according to Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives. While the MBPA contributes $1 per head to help cover the cost, Dahl would like to see other organizations chip in to help lessen the burden on the producer.
Furthermore, because the disease is often passed from wildlife to the cattle herd through saliva at areas where bale grazing is common, producers are often forced to use other feeding methods, incurring further expenses, Dahl said.
“They have to take considerable measures to ensure that forages are isolated from wildlife and to minimize the contact of wildlife from their herds and that comes at considerable costs,” Dahl said.
The disease also devalues Manitoba beef on a whole as well, Dahl said, as it taints the industry in the province on a global level.
“Some states in the U.S. require animals to be tested no matter where they come from in Manitoba because we don’t have a TB free-status, which is a cost to our industry as a whole,” Dahl said.
And while producers are covered by insurance if cattle has to be destroyed due to a positive test, it still disheartens many producers, Dahl said.
“If the disease is found in your cattle herd, you’re herd is depopulated,” he said.
That is why Dahl wants the government to appoint a TB co-ordinator in the province with a clear mandate to eliminate the disease.
“There are two levels of government and five different departments (involved in the TB eradication process) and when you have that many groups involved they don’t always co-ordinate well,” Dahl said. “One of our requests is the appointment of a single person to be responsible for the issue and co-ordinate all the departments.”
Dahl said there are instances where an elk is tagged and tested by one department, but because it has moved into another group’s jurisdiction, it becomes someone else’s responsibility and can get lost in the shuffle.
“We want to eradicate the problem instead of continuing to deal with it as a chronic issue,” he said.