After years of success with tough love, USDA has opted for a more lenient approach for dealing with Brucellosis, a disease that can induce fevers, sweating, weakness, anemia, headaches, muscular and bodily pain and depression in humans.
The animal-to-human disease was previously handled on a state-by-state basis, forcing all cattlemen in states with brucellosis disease in their domestic stock who wanted to sell their animals across state lines to go through expensive tests and vaccines.
Those rules applied to every farm and ranch in any state that was not “brucellosis-free.”
By all accounts, it was one of the most successful disease-fighting programs in animal agriculture, making brucellosis in humans extremely rare in the United States, usually limited to a handful of people who consume unpasteurized milk and soft cheeses, usually from goats, and occupational exposures of laboratory workers, veterinarians and slaughterhouse workers.
But now as brucellosis has been limited to wild bison and elk herds in and around Yellowstone National Park, and spreading to some domestic animals, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has opted to go easy on the surrounding states.
USDA has not withdrawn the “brucellosis free” statuses of either Montana or Wyoming.
That’s even though state officials have confirmed two cases of brucellosis in domestic herds in Park County, WY; and another possible case in Sublette County, WY. On the Montana side of the line, Ted Turner’s Flying D Ranch also has a brucellosis problem.
Those who deal with domestic and wild animals in this part of the West have concluded the brucellosis problem is geographically isolated to cattle that come into contract with wild elk. Wildlife researchers have found as many as 20 percent of the Yellowstone elk carry the disease.
As a result, USDA is taking the approach of requiring tests and vaccines only in a so-called “Designated Surveillance Area” around Yellowstone National Park.
That’s a big change from as recently as two years ago when USDA revoked Montana’s entire “brucellosis-free” status after the disease turned up in only two herds in a two-year period.
The Montana Stockgrowers Association now accepts the intense federal surveillance of the last remaining reservoir of brucellosis in the U.S. as vital to the marketability of the states other cattle.
Whether it can be eradicated there is now the question.