Vet named to lead Manitoba’s bovine TB fight

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Efforts to try and eradicate bovine tuberculosis (TB) in and around northwestern Manitoba’s Riding Mountain National Park have a new leader.

The federal and provincial governments on Monday named Dr. Allan Preston, a veterinarian and former assistant deputy minister with Manitoba’s agriculture department, as the new TB co-ordinator in charge of an "enhanced" eradication program.

Bovine TB is a reportable disease in Canada and its prevalence in livestock remains extremely low. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency runs a surveillance system in federally-inspected abattoirs across the country. The most recent detected case in Canada was in a herd in British Columbia in 2011.

Livestock herds in Manitoba’s Riding Mountain eradication area (RMEA), however, are considered to be at higher risk because of the presence of the disease in wild deer and elk in the area. Wild elk are believed to be the reservoir for the disease in the park.

The RMEA and the rest of Manitoba have been able to maintain a "bovine TB-free" status since 2006, with CFIA’s ongoing surveillance. The disease has not been detected in Manitoba livestock since May 2008, and since 2003 before that case.

During the 2011-12 surveillance season, a total of 7,523 head of RMEA livestock were tested for TB across 79 herds.

"Progress has been made" in managing bovine TB in the RMEA in recent years, but the disease continues to be endemic in wild deer and elk, posing "significant challenges" for livestock producers in the area, the federal government said Monday in a release.

Many producers in the RMEA are required to have their herds tested for TB periodically, "in order to protect animal health and maintain market access," the government said.

While CFIA pays the cost for the TB tests, producers are responsible for presenting their animals for testing, and the testing and mitigation efforts "inflict considerable costs on producers," Manitoba Beef Producers noted in a release Monday.

"Priority"

Preston is to guide a multi-stakeholder working group to enhance ongoing TB eradication efforts in the area, including senior officials from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Parks Canada, CFIA, Manitoba’s agriculture and conservation departments, provincial cattle industry associations, conservation groups and First Nations.

"Dr. Preston is well known to Manitoba farmers for his extensive experience and he will be a valuable addition to our efforts to detect, eliminate and prevent the spread of this bovine disease," provincial Agriculture Minister Ron Kostyshyn said in the government’s release.

MBP "has long called for the appointment of a TB co-ordinator and we are pleased that governments have made our request a priority," MBP president Ray Armbruster, a rancher at Rossburn, said Monday.

"Agreements between two levels of government, four (cabinet) ministers and five departments are not often easy to reach," he said. "Ministers have taken this important, co-ordinated step towards the eradication of bovine TB in the RMEA because they recognize the impact the disease is having on both cattle herds and wildlife."

The provincial conservation department, for related reasons, has been conducting a special whitetail deer season in the RMEA, including the RMs of Grandview and Rossburn, providing a limited number of free tags to eligible hunters between Nov. 12 and this Sunday (Dec. 9).

The special season is aimed at boosting the number of whitetail deer samples for TB monitoring, which had fallen to insufficient levels in recent years.