By The Associated Press
SANTA FE — Members of the state’s congressional delegation and Gov. Bill Richardson are concerned that federal agriculture officials appear poised to change New Mexico’s status as a bovine tuberculosis-free state since some dairy cattle in Curry County have tested positive for the disease.
All dairies and ranchers in New Mexico would have to test their cattle for TB if the state’s status is lowered from a TB-free state, and the delegation and the governor believe that would violate federal regulations.
“A downgrade of New Mexico’s status could cost our producers more than $4 million per year,” the delegation said Tuesday in a letter to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Michael Johanns. “We urge you to adhere to the existing regulations and maintain New Mexico’s current TB status.”
New Mexico officials pointed out that the infected cattle in Curry County are located at two neighboring facilities and are under common ownership and supervision, meaning the animals should be considered a single herd under federal regulations.
Under those same regulations, the governor and the delegation maintain that if the herd is destroyed and an investigation is conducted within 90 days, the state can retain its TB-free status.
“Such an approach is prudent, reasonable, practical and serves the purpose of both the federal government and the state’s livestock industry,” the governor said in his own letter to Johanns.
Because of an outbreak of the disease several years ago, federal restrictions in Curry and Roosevelt counties prevent dairy cattle from being shipped outside of that area. Cattle can be moved among dairies in the area, however. Milk from dairies in the area is tested and can be marketed outside of those counties.
USDA officials approved a split-state status that covered those small areas in Roosevelt and Curry counties while the rest of the state was a TB-free zone.
Richardson and the delegation said New Mexico has been operating successfully under the split-state status, and they’re confident the state can continuing doing so.
The highly contagious lung disease is spread by infected cattle coughing, snorting and bellowing in pastures or feedlots. It affects such animals as cattle, bison, deer, elk and goats, and causes weight loss and general debilitation. It can be fatal.
Bovine TB is rarely passed to humans.
New Mexico officials have asked Johanns for emergency federal funding to cover the loss of the infected herd in Curry County, which numbers more than 10,000 and is worth an estimated $24 million.
Richardson and the delegation said the livestock industry is New Mexico’s single most important agricultural commodity. There are more than 1.5 million cattle and calves in the state, including 340,000 dairy cows.
“Unnecessarily reducing the state’s status will make New Mexico’s $2 billion livestock industry subject to significantly negative economic impacts,” Richardson said.