CFIA says no quick end to bovine tuberculosis disaster in Alberta, Saskatchewan

The Saskatchewan Stock Growers Association says a ranch in the southwestern part of the province is under quarantine.
The bovine tuberculosis disaster could continue for several months, the CFIA said. File / Global News

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.

READ MORE: Bovine TB outbreak declared a disaster by Alberta government

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.

Watch below: It’s a disease that is rare and not often found in Canadian cattle, but is now having paralyzing effects across the prairies after bovine tuberculosis was reported in a single cow from Alberta in late September. Meaghan Craig reports.

Click to play video 'Thousands of head of cattle set to be slaughtered in bovine tuberculosis outbreak' Thousands of head of cattle set to be slaughtered in bovine tuberculosis outbreak
Thousands of head of cattle set to be slaughtered in bovine tuberculosis outbreak – Nov 29, 2016

READ MORE: 6 things to know about the bovine tuberculosis outbreak in Alberta, Saskatchewan

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

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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.

READ MORE: Feds to give up to $16.7M for ranchers caught in bovine tuberculosis quarantine

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

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.

Watch below from Nov. 1: A quarantine on some south eastern cattle operations remains in effect after a cow from the area tested positive for bovine tuberculosis. The entire herd will be destroyed, along with other herds in the area. Quinn Campbell spoke to the owner of the affected cow, and he said the ordeal has been devastating.

Click to play video 'Alberta rancher at centre of bovine TB quarantine speaks out' Alberta rancher at centre of bovine TB quarantine speaks out
Alberta rancher at centre of bovine TB quarantine speaks out – Nov 1, 2016

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.

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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.

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.

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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.”

With files from John Cotter in Edmonton