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Susan Keller, Published December 15 2012

Letter: Editorial was based on rumors

The Forum’s Dec. 11 editorial, “ND cattle at risk? Find out,” correctly states that “good science has not been brought to bear on the alleged problem” of livestock deaths due to oil development in western North Dakota. Unfortunately, the next paragraph reads “there is no question that something is occurring that might be related to the intensity of oil and gas activities in oil counties.”

The most disturbing statement to me is, “there is no question that something is occurring …” This assumption is based on rumors, and no scientific evidence, outside of limited documented respiratory dust issues in cattle in western North Dakota, exists.

The state Board of Animal Health and I are responsible for protecting the health of all domestic animals in North Dakota. It is a duty we take seriously. I assure you that if scientific evidence of the problems described in The Forum’s story is presented, my office will participate with other agencies in the sort of “comprehensive scientific assessment” suggested in your editorial.

The Forum’s principal source for these allegations has not contacted my office or asked her local veterinarian to contact my office to ask for assistance with expenses associated with laboratory testing. To the best of my knowledge, none of her livestock have been examined or tested by a local veterinarian. No other livestock producers or veterinarians in the area have reported animals suffering from anything out of the ordinary. No laboratory reports have been received implicating oil and gas activities in animal health problems.

The editorial said I “seem unenthused about taking a close look at this situation.” This is not true. I offered to help this rancher’s veterinarian with testing last year. Our office has received no request for assistance. The offer still stands.

It is vitally important to involve a local veterinarian or diagnostic laboratory veterinarians. A producer’s local veterinarian can recommend vaccination, provide nutritional advice and assist with necropsies and sample collection if needed. Producers can work with a veterinarian of their choice and send the samples to any accredited laboratory. My office asks for copies of laboratory reports so appropriate actions can be taken if other animals in the area are at risk.

Unfortunately, the single source for the original Forum story indicates she will not work with my office. Currently, all we have are rumors but no scientific evidence as a basis for required testing.

If North Dakota producers have science-based information indicating their animals have been exposed to an agent that may be harmful to other animals, they should feel obligated to share that information with proper authorities.

Dr. Keller, DVM, is North Dakota state veterinarian.