No quick end to bovine TB disaster despite lack of new cases: CFIA

The nature of the disease itself means that the investigation will also be lengthy and complex, says CFIA chief veterinary officer

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency says it has not found any new cases of bovine tuberculosis in the last week, though it could take several more months to sound the all clear.

Cattle ranchers in parts of Alberta and Saskatchewan have been rocked after a cow from Alberta that was slaughtered in the U.S. in October was found to have the disease.

About 26,000 cows have been quarantined on dozens of ranches, and around 10,000 are set to be slaughtered to ensure the disease doesn't spread.

Any animal that shows a sign of the disease is destroyed, and the meat cannot be eaten.

CFIA chief veterinary officer Harpreet Kochhar told reporters on Wednesday that testing continues on thousands of animals, but the number of confirmed cases is unchanged from the six reported last week.

However, Kochhar said the slow nature of bovine tuberculosis and the way it is tested means it can take between eight and 12 weeks before a cow can be confirmed free of the disease.

"The investigation is progressing,'' he said, "but the nature of the disease itself means that the investigation will also be lengthy and complex.''

READ: Six things you need to know about the bovine TB outbreak

With testing expected to drag on past the end of January, that could mean some ranches will remain in quarantine until April or later—assuming more aren't put under quarantine as the investigation broadens.

About 45 ranches in southeastern Alberta and five in southwestern Saskatchewan are currently under some form of quarantine, Kochhar said, adding that all six confirmed cases came from the same herd.

Humans can catch tuberculosis from cattle, though the chances are considered extremely low and there is no indication that the outbreak poses any risk to the public.

The bigger concern at this point is the economic damage of trying to contain the disease.

The Alberta government officially declared the outbreak a disaster last week, and an official from Agriculture Canada said compensation is now available for those ranchers who have been affected.

Rosser Lloyd, director general of business risk management at Agriculture Canada, said some applications for compensation have already been received by the Alberta government and the first payments should start rolling out later this week.

"We are urging the remaining affected ranchers to complete the application as soon as possible in order to access the funding available to assist with the cash-flow pressures,'' Lloyd said.

READ: CFIA triples ‘high risk’ bovine TB farm list

Officials have said the government will compensate up to $10,000 for a registered animal and $4,500 for a commercial animal, though CFIA staff will work with owners to determine fair market value.

Alberta Agriculture Minister Oneil Carlier toured several cattle ranches in the affected area Wednesday.

Afterward, he released a statement praising the "resilience'' of those farmers dealing with the outbreak and promised the federal and provincial governments would work around the clock to resolve the situation.

"We will continue to stand together and with our producers as they work through the immediate situation and in the future as they begin the long process of rebuilding their herds,'' Carlier said.

The bacteria associated with the outbreak has been linked to a strain of bovine tuberculosis that hadn't been detected in Canada before, and Kochhar said the CFIA was very interested in finding out where it came from.

However, he was quick to lower expectations, saying the complexity of the case and slow way in which the disease acts would prove challenging.

"In the end we may not be able to pinpoint a smoking gun, as they would say,'' he said.

"However, we continue to follow the different lines of inquiry and find out if there was anything that was related to introduction of tuberculosis in this cattle through any particular sources.''

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