By JOHN O'CONNELL
The Idaho Cattle Association has scheduled time at its June 27 summer meeting in McCall for members to debate a controversial proposal to expand state trichomoniasis testing requirements into the Northern Panhandle.
The ICA board came out last September in favor of making the testing requirement, which now covers only producers south of Salmon River, a statewide policy. At the McCall meeting, ICA will also discuss the possibility of a November vote by its general membership on whether to endorse a testing expansion, said ICA communications director Jessie Thompson.
Trichomoniasis is a venereal disease that can lead to infertility and abortions among cows. There's no risk of humans contracting the disease from tainted meat.
Idaho became one of the first states to implement a trichomoniasis testing requirement in 1989. Northern Idaho producers were granted a special exemption from testing four years later, based on the lack of any positive cases.
Veterinarians and producers on an Idaho State Department of Agriculture trichomoniasis task force voted to support the program expansion in the spring of 2012, and again this March. For a change to be implemented, ISDA would have to propose a new rule for approval by the state Legislature.
Officials with ISDA said the state veterinarian intends to wait until he has the backing of state lawmakers before presenting a rule change. In the 2011-2012 testing season, 17 positive cases were confirmed from more than 21,000 bulls tested in southern Idaho. So far this testing year, ISDA has confirmed four bulls have tested positive. By comparison, 332 bulls tested positive in the program's first year.
The testing year spans from Sept. 1 through Aug. 31. Northern Idaho breeding bulls that graze in southern Idaho must test negative within 30 days before heading south of the Salmon River. Thompson said the majority of southern Idaho's positive cases trace back to grazing associations, in which cattle from multiple herds graze together. Associations aren't common in northern Idaho.
Royce Schwenkfelder, a producer in Cambridge, located in the southern region where northern cattle also come to graze, has seen plenty of bulls from the north without tags to indicate they've undergone required trichomoniasis testing before crossing the river.
Schwenkfelder said it's a financial burden to pay $28 per test and to haul his bulls 78 miles to Weiser for the work, but he considers it a worthwhile investment to keep trichomoniasis in check.
"It would seem smart as a state to treat all citizens the same," Schwenkfelder said.
Rep. Jim Guthrie, R-McCammon, said his father lost about 40 percent of his calves to trichomoniasis several years ago.
"If it ever gets a hold of them and affects their herd (opponents of statewide testing) will have a different take on it," Guthrie said.
Sandpoint producer Leonard Wood argues there's no evidence of a problem in northern Idaho, and mandatory testing would add a needless expense. He also doubts ISDA has the resources to enforce new rules.
"Nobody in northern Idaho is opposed to getting the disease taken care of. ... We've got to make sure the language is proper so everybody can live with it," Wood said.