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Three more cases of bovine TB found in northern Minnesota

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BEMIDJI, Minn. - Three more cases of bovine tuberculosis were found in Beltrami County cattle, but officials say the effect will be minimal as the animals come from within a bovine TB management zone.

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Three mature cows tested positive for bovine TB, the Minnesota Board of Animal Health said Wednesday, but they were cattle sent to slaughter as part of a buyout herd under new state legislation to control the spread of the disease among cattle.

The herd is located in the state's Modified Accredited Zone, within the bovine TB management zone, the board said. On Oct. 10, the U..S. Department of Agriculture created a split-state status for Minnesota, keeping the more restrictive Modified Accredited classification in northwest Minnesota and allowing the rest of Minnesota to be classified TB-Free.

The Board of Animal Health also said about 1,250 white-tail deer have been tested from the fall harvest for bovine TB, and no outward signs of the disease was noted. Free-ranging deer are believed to spread the disease to cattle.

The latest bovine TB cases will not result in a downgrade of status for either the more restricted area or the rest of the state, the board said.

The Beltrami herd owner, who wasn't identified, was participating in the state-funded herd buyout program, along with 45 other producers located in the management zone. The aim of the buyout program, authorized by legislation signed into law this year, is to eliminate herds located in the area where the disease has been known to exist, the board said.

"This positive finding validates the entire buyout program," said Minnesota Bovine TB Coordinator Joe Martin. "We have found positive herds in this area before, and we knew it might happen again, especially in older animals such as these."

Under the program, participating farmers are paid $500 per animal under which cattle must be moved out of the zone or slaughtered by Jan. 31. They will also receive $75 a head annually until the state regains its TB-Free status statewide.

"By removing higher risk cattle from the management zone and working to decrease the deer population, we are carrying out our strategy of eradicating the disease," Martin said.. "And that's good news for everyone involved."

The disease in the three animals was initially detected during routine slaughter surveillance when a USDA veterinarian detected suspicious lesions on them, the Board of Animal Health said. Tissue samples were submitted to the National Veterinary Services Laboratory in Ames, Iowa, where a diagnosis of bovine TB was confirmed.

The cows were systematically traced back to the herd using an Animal Movement Certificate and individual identification.

The remaining cattle in the herd have been quarantined., the board said.

The Board of Animal Health has received 45 herd buyout contracts signed by cattle producers in the bovine tuberculosis management zone, it said. The board estimates that 6,800 cattle will be removed from the TB disease management area as a result of the buyout program. To date, more than half the animals have been removed.

Producers taking part in the buyout program will not be allowed to keep livestock in the Modified Accredited Zone, it said.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources reports testing about 1,250 deer this fall hunting season in the northwest for the disease and did not detect any obvious cases of bovine TB in the deer sampled, the Board of Animal Health said.

"While this is encouraging news," said Michelle Carstensen, DNR Wildlife Health Program coordinator, "final test results are pending and should be available in early 2009."

While the total number of infected deer found since 2005 remains at 24 cases, DNR plans to continue management efforts this winter to minimize the risks of the disease persisting in the local deer population.

Since the initial 2005 discovery of bovine TB in Minnesota, the state had identified 11 infected beef cattle until Wednesday -- all in Beltrami and Roseau counties. Along with the deer with bovine TB, the discoveries caused the USDA to downgrade Minnesota's federal status to Modified Accredited.

The downgrade means Minnesota producers face stricter federal testing requirements for cattle being shipped from Minnesota to other states.

The new legislation for the management zone also calls for farmers to fence in feeding areas to prevent cattle and deer from grazing the same area.

State Agriculture Commissioner Gene Hugoson told the Bemidji Pioneer last month that the program has been well received, and that the department may need to seek an additional $1 million for the program from the 2009 Legislature.

"We want to make sure that while the farmers who are still within that zone that has the TB status yet are helped in a way that they can become free of it as quickly as possible, and certainly we're doing everything we can that it doesn't spread outside," Hugoson said.

Bovine TB poses little health risk to humans, especially since milk is pasteurized.

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