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CATTLE PRODUCERS REQUEST APHIS TO WITHDRAW FEVER TICK RULE

Billings, Mont. – R-CALF USA was pleased last month to learn the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced more than $5 million in emergency funding top implement a fever tick eradication program in response to the growing infestation in areas formerly free of fever ticks along the Texas/Mexico border.

On the other hand, USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is proposing to open the privately owned port at San Luis, Ariz., to lower the cost of importing cattle from Mexico, and R-CALF USA wrote that the importation of cattle from Mexico would make the disease more readily accessible. Also, APHIS does not recognize any state in Mexico as a tick-free area.

“Prevention of more widespread fever tick infestations is vital given the high cost that such an infestation would impose on the U.S. cattle industry,” said R-CALF USA President/Region VI Director Max Thornsberry, a Missouri veterinarian who also chairs the group's animal health committee. “Cattle infected with tick-borne diseases suffer severe weight loss, a drop in milk production and possible abortion. Up to 50 percent of those infected may die, and those that survive will have a protracted recovery and may continue to serve as a source of infection for herd mates. In fact, it took the U.S. 55 years to officially eradicate fever ticks from the country after first establishing an eradication program in 1906.”

According to news reports, the recent increase in funding to address spreading fever tick infestations in Texas came in response to concerns that failure to effectively quarantine newly infested areas could lead to the spread of ticks across the country, which the Texas Animal Health Commission acknowledges could result in “losses of $1 billion per year” to the industry – an overly conservative estimate in R-CALF USA's opinion.

“R-CALF is deeply concerned that the risks of allowing the entry of cattle infested with fever ticks or exposed to fever ticks or tick-borne disease through an additional port of entry at San Luis have not been fully evaluated and continue to outweigh any benefit that may result from this change,” Thornsberry pointed out. “R-CALF USA, therefore, respectfully requests the proposed rule be withdrawn until a more comprehensive risk assessment is completed.

“R-CALF believes it is inappropriate to consider any weakening of U.S. import regulations relating to fever ticks and tick-borne diseases at this time,” he continued. “Instead, R-CALF supports an aggressive program that aims to, first, effectively contain and eradicate infestations of fever ticks in the U.S., and second, prevent the introduction of tick-borne illnesses into the U.S. through the strengthening of U.S. import standards.”

The previously mentioned spread of fever tick infestations both within and outside the fever tick quarantine zone in Texas – which reached a historical high in 2005 – occurred immediately following the increase of more than 130,000 Mexican cattle imports into the U.S. through pre-existing ports of entry, between calendar years 2003 and 2004. APHIS also acknowledges that five of the 12 states that currently receive cattle from Mexico are located below the Latitude 36 0 N, posing a higher risk for the establishment of fever ticks. APHIS does not address the fact that indeed there have been recent and persistent outbreaks of tick fever in European countries well above that latitude.

“Also in its risk assessment, APHIS finds that infection of the U.S. herd with tick-borne disease may lead to the curtailment of imports of live U.S. cattle by one or more international trading partners, and we could find ourselves in the same situation we were in back in December 2003 when an imported Canadian cow was discovered in Washington state with BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy),” said R-CALF USA Region VII Director Eric Nelson, who also co-chairs the groups trade committee. “In the five years before that incident, the U.S. exported more than $200 million worth of live cattle per year, on average.”

The U.S. does not currently follow the recommendations of the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) regarding importation of animals from countries with tick-borne disease. While the U.S. requires inspection for signs of the disease and tick infestation, as well as dip designed to eliminate ticks, the U.S. falls short of OIE standards in that it does not limit entry to those animals that have either: 1) resided since birth in a zone recognized as free of tick fever and treated with a pesticide prior to shipment; or, 2) have tested negative for tick fever in the preceding month and have been treated with an appropriate pesticide before shipment.

“APHIS' assessment appears to be based on assumptions regarding the impact of the rule on import demand and import volumes that are contradicted by the very justification for the rule – to reduce the costs associated with importing cattle from Mexico, and the assessment also relies on problematic assumptions regarding hospitable environments for fever ticks and the costs of a potential outbreak of tick fever,” Thornsberry explained.

“R-CALF USA is extremely disappointed that APHIS has not fully evaluated all of the risks associated with this proposed rule, which clearly poses unjustifiable risks to animal health and to the economic well-being of the U.S. cattle industry,” Thornsberry concluded. “However, R-CALF USA would be eager to work with APHIS to ensure that U.S. import regulations reflect international standards and to promote an aggressive domestic program of fever tick eradication.”

Note: To view the comments in their entirety, visit the “Animal Health” link at www.r-calfusa.com, or contact R-CALF USA Communications Coordinator Shae Dodson to request a copy.

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