The New Mexico congressional delegation today encouraged U.S. Agriculture Secretary Edward Schafer not to take any action related to bovine tuberculosis testing that would harm the entire state's livestock industry.
In a letter to Schafer, U.S. Senators Jeff Bingaman and Pete Domenici, along with Representatives Heather Wilson, Tom Udall and Steve Pearce, objected to a possible plan by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to force all New Mexico ranchers and dairies to test their cattle for bovine TB.
In 2003, bovine TB was discovered in cattle in two counties -- Curry and Roosevelt -- and the New Mexico delegation was successful in ensuring that only the cattle from a portion of the affected counties needed to be tested before they were shipped out of state. Unfortunately, earlier this year, a single new animal from a feedlot in Curry County was found to be infected with bovine TB. That discovery is prompting the USDA to consider amending New Mexico's bovine TB status to one that requires statewide testing.
But the New Mexico lawmakers believe that statewide testing would be a costly and unnecessary step.
"As we understand it, USDA is considering amending the bovine TB regulations to add New Mexico to the list of modified accredited advanced states as a result of the discovery of an infected animal earlier this year. This change would have dramatic consequences on the livestock industry in our state. Because we believe this change is not in accord with the USDA's existing regulations, we are requesting your prompt review of the decision," the letter states.
The letter adds that a change in New Mexico's TB status is premature given that follow-up testing this year identified no additional infections.
The New Mexico lawmakers pointed out that the livestock industry is New Mexico's single most important agricultural commodity with total annual sales of milk and beef cattle totaling almost $2 billion. There are over 1.5 million cattle and calves in New Mexico, including 340,000 dairy cows.
"We believe New Mexico continues to have in place the capability and resources to manage properly its existing split-state status, including regulations on the movement of cattle, monitoring of animals in the restricted zone and full enforcement of a tuberculosis eradication program. A downgrade of New Mexico's status could cost our producers more than $4 million per year and could actually impede efforts to eliminate bovine TB as resources are shifted over to operations that pose little or no risk. We urge you to adhere to the existing regulations and maintain New Mexico's current TB status," the letter states.