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Published December 15, 2009, 10:07 AM

North Dakota officials revisit bovine TB issue

North Dakota is revisiting restrictions it placed on cattle imports from Minnesota nearly two years ago after bovine tuberculosis was detected in deer and cattle herds there, a state official said. North Dakota’s Board of Animal Health asked state Veterinarian Dr. Susan Keller to meet with wildlife officials from both states to discuss the restrictions and gather information.

By: Blake Nicholson, Associated Press

BISMARCK — North Dakota is revisiting restrictions it placed on cattle imports from Minnesota nearly two years ago after bovine tuberculosis was detected in deer and cattle herds there, a state official said.

North Dakota’s Board of Animal Health asked state Veterinarian Dr. Susan Keller to meet with wildlife officials from both states to discuss the restrictions and gather information.

Keller said Friday that for North Dakota to ease its restrictions, she would have to find convincing evidence that deer, which can spread the disease to cattle, are not a threat in northwestern Minnesota.

“We are definitely going to talk to people but I’m not expecting things to change much,” Keller said.

Joe Martin, assistant commissioner for the Minnesota Department of Agriculture and the state’s bovine TB coordinator, said he is pleased that North Dakota officials are revisiting the long-standing restrictions. “We stand ready to share any information that they request,” he said.

North Dakota restricted cattle shipments from Minnesota nearly two years ago after bovine TB was found in northwestern Minnesota cattle and deer. North Dakota has been deemed “TB-free” for more than three decades, and officials fear the loss of that status if the disease that emaciates cattle makes its way across the border.

The federal Agriculture Department in October 2008 granted Minnesota “split state” status — lessening testing requirements for all cattle producers except those in parts of four northwestern counties where the disease has been found in cattle and deer.

Martin said Minnesota’s major cattle-trading partners are Midwest states. South Dakota, Iowa, Nebraska and Kansas all have recognized the split-state status, but Wisconsin and North Dakota have not.

North Dakota’s Board of Animal Health, which historically has not recognized such designations, has left in place the cattle import restrictions it approved for all of Minnesota in February 2008. The restrictions, which apply to cattle and other livestock as well as farmed deer and elk, are detailed and complicated. They require more stringent testing and inspections before the animals can be brought into North Dakota.

North Dakota officials worry that monitoring of cattle and wild deer in northwestern Minnesota, where diseased cattle and deer have been eradicated, might not be adequate. “That was a concern — is that zone large enough?” Keller said.

Martin said wildlife officials have determined that deer in the region do not move far. “Between landscape and food, they really don’t move more than seven, 10 miles. That’s their range,” he said.

Keller said one possibility the North Dakota board might consider is restricting cattle shipments from a larger zone than the one in the federal split-state designation but easing testing on cattle from other parts of Minnesota.

The North Dakota board took a similar approach earlier this year with an order that required Montana cattle imports to test negative for brucellosis. The order was lifted for much of the state but left intact for cattle from seven counties near Yellowstone National Park where the disease is common among bison and elk.

The North Dakota board meets only four times a year. Any action on the Minnesota restrictions is not likely to come before mid-March.

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