By Jack King
Negotiations between a Roosevelt County dairyman and the U.S. Department of Agriculture over the destruction of a herd of cattle infected with bovine tuberculosis have reached an impasse.
Destroying, or “depopulating,” the herd — and a second infected herd in Roosevelt County — could help New Mexico regain its TB-free status in as little as two years. Without depopulation, regaining the status could take two to five years, said state veterinarian Dr. Steve England.
But Ronnie Mitchell of Mitchell Dairy said Tuesday his negotiations with the USDA have been marked by bad faith.
“Our talks have gone nowhere,” he said. “They (USDA) have made written promises, then backed out of them.”
Mitchell said he couldn’t discuss details of the negotiations, except to say the problems are not about the price the federal agency is offering to destroy the herd.
“We’re considering going back into talks with them and I don’t want to say anything that could hurt that,” he said.
Dr. Michael Greenlee, head of the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service New Mexico office, was traveling Tuesday and could not be reached for comment.
England said negotiations between the USDA and the owner of a second Roosevelt County herd where bovine TB has been diagnosed are going more smoothly.
According to a New Mexico Cattle Grower’s Association press release, New Mexico’s bovine TB status was downgraded July 24, with the publication in the Federal Register of an immediately effective “interim rule” from the USDA.
With the status lost, federal rules require New Mexico to develop a plan outlining the steps it will take to regain it. Development and acceptance of a plan by the USDA could take well over a year, England said.
The Cattle Growers Association and the Dairy Producers of New Mexico have sent letters to the state Livestock Board asking it to pursue “regionalization,” which would require testing only cattle from the area where TB has been diagnosed. However, development and acceptance of such a plan could take over a year. In the meantime, cattle statewide are subject to federal rules about bovine TB, he said.
Tucumcari-area rancher Phil Bidegain, president of the Cattle Growers’ Association, said bovine TB is highly contagious between animals, but the possibility of transfer to humans is very low. Cows that are found to be contaminated are put down, not put in the food chain, and pasteurization kills any TB bacillus that might be found in milk, he said.
“While this change will have absolutely no affect on human health and safety, it will have a tremendous negative impact on beef, dairy and bison producers throughout New Mexico in terms of time, money and labor,” he said.