Where's the beef?

State Representative Sid Miller's (R-Stephenville) tone was just a smidge under smoldering and he didn't mince words when asked about the Texas Animal Health Commission's (TAHC) new regulations regarding tracking animals to prevent the spread of bovine tuberculosis (TB).

New cattle testing, tagging and entry rules issued by the TAHC went into effect Oct. 13.

“I am all for eradicating TB but I am extremely disappointed in the Texas Animal Health Commission, Miller said. “It's too much government. If you want to participate voluntarily that's OK but it shouldn't be mandatory.

“I have a problem with tracking the movement of every goat in the state of Texas when they (government officials) can't even track illegal aliens, Miller said. “This is the proverbial camel's nose under the tent.

During the past legislative session, Miller said he introduced a bill that would require the TAHC to gain permission from the governor or the legislature before requiring an animal identification process. He said the bill passed the House but died in the Senate.

Miller said it was especially upsetting to him because Dr. Bob Hillman, TAHC executive director and Texas' state veterinarian, “testified that they would not require a mandatory ID system as long as the federal government did not require it.

The testimony, Miller said, was given before his committee, the House Agriculture and Livestock Committee.

Miller said when he contacted Hillman about the matter he was told, This is not animal ID.'

But Miller said he believes animal ID is exactly what it is.

Hillman could not be reached for comment.

Miller said he has received at least a half dozen calls about the issue.

Discoveries of two dairy herds in New Mexico, along with a Colorado bucking herd and a beef cattle herd in Oklahoma led the TAHC to tighten regulations in an effort, officials say, to keep Texas herds from becoming infected with TB.

Carla Everett, TAHC public information officer, said markets have been required to record information on each animal sold and the new regulations do not cause markets to do any more paperwork on the animals than they have been doing since 1992.

In 2003, after testing, a dairy herd was positive for TB in nearby Hamilton County.

The micro bacterial disease causes lesions in the animal's lungs and other internal organs and is spread by commingling sick animals with healthy ones by either inhaling or ingesting the organism. There is no cure.

Authorities say dairy herds are thought to be particularly susceptible to the disease because they are managed in confined areas making the spread of the disease more prolific.

Texas has only been TB free since October of 2006.

John Cowan, executive director of the Texas Association of Dairymen, said leaders in the dairy industry “have been behind it because the program is designed to ensure TB is not reintroduced to Texas herds.

“It's intended to protect the market, Cowan said. “The dairymen already identify cattle by an ear tattoo number, flap tag or a brucellosis tag. Any of these tags are approved and will work.

The impact to the dairy farmer, Cowan said, is the tagging of baby calves -particularly baby bull calves that may leave that yard pretty quickly.

The dairymen are not used to doing that, Cowan said. “Now they have to tag one-day-old calves.

“A bull calf may bring $20 to $30 at market, Cowan said. “The tags cost between $2 and $4. That cost makes an already slim profit margin even slimmer, Cowan said.

Cowan said dairymen do not keep bull calves routinely unless they're used for breeding stock, but most are raised for beef.

Cowan said he believes the new regulations are only meant to “tighten control a little bit more, and make it easier to trace an infected animal to its source. In this way, authorities can trace back to the source of the disease and take preventive measures to keep it from spreading.

Cowan said a lot of dairymen are already going to the radio frequency identification ear tag to ID their animals because it's permanent and no more expensive. It is designed to electronically identify and store more accurately information contained on a tag attached to the animal. He said it could be the required tag in the future.

Cowan said the two TB herds in New Mexico are being depopulated now (infected animals killed) which has a deep and far reaching economical impact on the herd's owner.

Dairy animals are controlled more strictly Cowan said because they may change owners several times whereas beef animals go to slaughter and would not usually be sent to a herd where the disease could spread. Although, he said, slaughter plants have inspectors that look for signs of the disease and the new regulations can also hasten pinpointing the source of the disease in that group of cattle.

Cowan said he has been contacted by only two dairymen since the regulations went into effect and doesn't think the regulations were a surprise to anyone.

In a press release, Hillman said the new TAHC regulations include:

Lowering the TB test-eligible age from six to two months for sexually intact dairy cattle entering Texas. These animals also must have be officially identified individually and be accompanied by a certificate of veterinary inspection stating they tested negative for TB within 60 days prior to entering Texas. Sexually intact cattle less than two months of age must have an entry permit and go to a designated facility, where the animals will be held until they are tested negative at the age of two months.

Forgoing TB testing on out-of-state dairy cattle delivered to an approved feedlot in Texas for finish feeding for slaughter only, unless the animals are from TB-infected herd. These dairy feeder animals must be identified, and have a TAHC entry permit and certificate of veterinary inspection.

Identifying all Texas dairy cattle - regardless of age - with an official or TAHC-approved identification device prior to movement within the state.

Requiring TB tests for Mexican-origin (or “M-branded) steers that are recognized as potential rodeo and/or roping stock, and entering Texas from other states. These steers must have had a negative TB test within the previous 12 months, and have a certificate of veterinary inspection issued within the previous 30 days.

ANGELIA JOINER is a staff writer for the Empire-Tribune. She can be reached at angelia.joiner@empiretribune.com or 254-965-3124, ext. 238.