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Still no decision made yet by USDA on 'depopulating' two Lower Valley herds

The decision on whether or not to kill any or all of the animals in two Lower Valley herds, at a dairy which was home to a Holstein that tested positive for bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) and a calf feeding operation where the infected cow's calf was sent, has not been made. But the possibility that the two herds may have to be killed, or depopulated as the federal government is now calling it, still exists.

According to Suzan Holl, public affairs specialist for the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, there is an indemnity program that cattle owners can apply for, which if approved, would provide fair market price replacement costs should the United States Department of Agriculture decide that killing the cattle is the best option.

Dr. Ron DeHaven, chief veterinarian for the USDA, announced Wednesday that 10 of the 82 cows that crossed the Canadian border into the United States were found on the Mabton dairy. The other 70 cows are still being traced down, but DeHaven believes they are all in Washington state.

Holl said she is unsure if the Mabton dairy owner and Sunnyside area calf operation owner would be compensated for the time to renew operations, if a severe cut is made into either herd population. The dairy is made up of 4,000 cows and the calf feeding operation has approximately 460 calves.

According to Jay Gordon, executive director of the Washington State Dairy Federation, the only model they have for indemnity are for sheep herds that were eliminated in the Northeast due to disease, and cattle that were killed in Texas.

Ann Baneville, an independent consultant working with the dairy and beef industries, said the government has a response plan to contain and eradicate potential threats to the industry.

She said in Texas when bovine tuberculosis was uncontrollable, rather than targeting the wild animals continuously carrying the disease over the border from Mexico, the USDA found it more prudent to provide the farmer with indemnification and exterminate the herd.

"All of us in the dairy industry that are watching this don't know those answers yet," said Gordon. "He's got employees and he's got a lot of hard work and effort."

Gordon added that the whole point of indemnity is so the herd can be tested in the national interest. There is no test for BSE that can be done on live animals. The testing requires a portion of the cow's brain for testing, according to the USDA.

When Canada found mad cow disease in a single cow in an Alberta herd, more than 1,160 cattle were killed and tested for BSE, according to Dr. Brian Evans, chief veterinary officer for the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. Cows from the herd where the diseased cow lived, where her offspring lived and herds where the infected cow "co-mingled" were all destroyed. BSE tests on all of the cows were negative, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association.

Although Gordon said the case of BSE was a shock to farmers in Washington, it's not something they haven't been preparing for.

"For the past two or three years we've had a lot of paper preparation," said Gordon. "Washington State, since the foot-in-mouth outbreak in Asia, came up with an emergency preparation plan."

With the decision of whether or not to depopulate the two Lower Yakima Valley farms still up in the air, Gordon said he believes the USDA is paying close attention to the international standard and making sure that decision will help in reopening foreign markets.

Also not determined if the cattle on the two farms are determined to be a threat is the method of termination.

"Whatever they do determine will be the most humane way by the American Veterinary Medication Association guidelines," said Holl.

She added that the animals would be euthanized by the USDA, and the USDA would incur the costs.

Holl said that if killed the animals would be tested for BSE before they were disposed of. The method of disposal is unknown, but she said they would not enter the meat market.

. Melissa Browning can be contacted at (509) 837-4500, or e-mail mbrowning@eaglenewspapers.com

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