Rancher Brad Osadczuk says having his cattle quarantined for the last two months due to a bovine tuberculosis outbreak is hurting his business and his family — and he wants the federal government to step in with financial help.
Osadczuk’s learned on Sept. 22 that one of his cows had the contagious bacterial disease. Five other cattle linked to his herd have since tested positive for TB.
The case has led the Canadian Food Inspection Agency to quarantine 34 ranches in southeastern Alberta and two in Saskatchewan as it tries to determine the source of the TB and how far it has spread.
The problem for Osadczuk and other producers whose herds are under quarantine is they can’t sell or move any of their livestock and must continue feeding their cattle until the investigation is complete, something that could take months.
Osadczuk said he plans to deliver a message to Parliament’s Standing Committee on Agriculture in Ottawa on Tuesday.
“We need some help here. Having these cattle quarantined and not selling them is costing me literally thousands of dollars per day,” he said from his ranch near Jenner, Alta., just north of Canadian Forces Base Suffield.
“There is a lot of turmoil and it is hard on the family and the whole neighbourhood.”
Osadczuk said the CFIA plans to destroy 385 of his cows, 385 calves and 51 bulls as part of the investigation, but he has other cattle to feed.
The CFIA pays for animals that it kills, but there is no compensation for other costs. About 18,000 cattle are under quarantine in the region.
The agency is doing a risk assessment to determine whether other herds need to be declared infected. It has said the TB is linked to a strain first discovered in Mexico in 1997.
Tom Herman, president of the Suffield Grazing Co-op, said some ranchers wonder if the disease is from wild elk.
Some elk were shipped to CFB Suffield in 1997 and 1998 from a national park. Over the years, those elk have multiplied into a herd now estimated at about 5,000.
Herman said one of the pastures ranchers in the area use to graze cattle in the summer is in the northern part of CFB Suffield.
“It is definitely a potential source,” he said.
Joel Nicholson, a senior Alberta wildlife biologist, said there is no evidence the TB is from wild elk.
The province, which has jurisdiction over wildlife, has been trying to reduce the size of the elk herd through hunting. It requires anyone who kills an elk on the base to submit the head for disease tests.
Nicholson said about 1,500 elk heads have been tested over the years and hundreds more are expected over the next few months.
“We know that the elk were TB-free when they were brought in and, at this point, there is no evidence to suggest that the disease came from the elk.”
The CFIA has said the TB outbreak has no effect on food safety or trade.
Bovine TB can be transmitted from infected animals to people, causing a condition similar to human tuberculosis, but the CFIA says the risk to the general population is very low.