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Don Davis, Published January 23 2009

Legislators get good news in tuberculosis fight

ST. PAUL – Minnesota senators smiled Thursday when they heard about

one of the few bright spots in the 2009 legislative session.

In a time when lawmakers must deal with a massive budget deficit affecting nearly every state program, Sen. Rod Skoe said it was good to hear that an aggressive state-run effort saved the state’s cattle industry.

A dozen northwestern Minnesota tuberculosis-infected cattle herds threatened to bring economic ruin for cattle farmers across the state, but nearly four years after the first problem surfaced, there is good news.

Senate Agriculture Committee members heard that TB-fighting efforts have succeeded and federal restrictions cattle producers faced in much of the state have been relaxed. The state continues to monitor the situation.

“It has been a busy year, but a successful year,” Joe Martin of the Minnesota Agriculture Department told senators.

Skoe received much of the credit from state agencies for his efforts to ensure state funding for programs ranging from killing TB-carrying deer to buying cattle in the affected area.

The Clearbrook Democrat said the state has spent $6 million to get rid of bovine TB, far less than it would have cost cattle producers if the disease had spread out of the small area of northwestern Minnesota that remains under strict restrictions.

Cattle in the rest of the state still are subject to TB tests.

“It is very difficult to know that you don’t have any TB anywhere in the state,” said State Veterinarian Bill Hartmann.

Fears that Minnesota cattle prices would plummet proved unfounded, Martin said. However, North Dakota and Wisconsin still require all Minnesota cattle to be tested for TB before they will accept them.

If statewide restrictions had remained, Hartmann said, all 250,000 Minnesota cattle that leave the state annually would need costly TB tests.

“We are on our way of getting rid of this disease,” Hartmann added.

Davis works for Forum Communications Co., which owns The Forum. He can be reached at (651) 290-0707 or ddavis@forumcomm.com