Friday, February 3, 2017

TB case far from settled

More than four months after an Alberta cow tested positive for tuberculosis at a packing plant in the United States, Canadian officials are no closer to knowing where the disease originated.

“We may never know” the source, said Dr. Harpeet Kochhar, Chief Veterinary Officer for the Canadian Food Inspection Agency in a telephone news conference.

In fact, testing of animals that came into the main herd under investigation won’t begin until this fall, after cows and calves come in from summer pasture.

In the meantime, there has been no change in the number of farms – 58 – and the number of cattle – about 28,000 – under quarantine or already slaughtered.

The CFIA has already slaughtered 10,000 mature cows from the 18 premises that are part of the main herd under investigation. Another 10,000 of their calves are being slaughtered as packing-plant capacity becomes available.

The carcasses are checked for lesions, but so far none have been found in the six cattle that tested positive to a rapid screening test for TB.

It will be another few weeks before culture testing is completed and Kochar said only that the herd owner will be informed of the results. It’s possible that none of the cattle were infected.

The culture tests take 12 to 14 weeks, and the CFIA first needed to set up facilities and protocols, Kochar said.

Testing continues in the other herds where cattle were in contact with animals from the main herd under investigation, farms ranging across Alberta and into Southern Saskatchewan.

They all remain under quarantine and won’t be released until the premises have been thoroughly cleaned and disinfected.  That may await the return of warm weather.

One of the issues is that cattle mingled in community pastures.

Another is that Canada needs to meet the requirements of trading nations before it can lift quarantines.

So far the federal and Alberta agriculture departments have written cheques for more than $3 million to compensate herd owners for feed and yardage costs. There will be more compensation yet to come for other costs, including the value of the animals slaughtered.

Kochar also confirmed that there could be additional quarantines, depending on the results of ongoing testing, including the trace-in testing scheduled for this fall.

So, on the one hand this may all end up being an expensive wild goose chase. On the other hand, with international trade at stake, the CFIA really has no choice but to exercise caution.