By MATTHEW WEAVER
The quarantine has been lifted at a Moses Lake, Wash., dairy after an investigation into a case of suspected bovine tuberculosis.
Washington State Veterinarian Leonard Eldridge said he has completed the second round of testing on the herd at Juergens Brothers Dairy, LLC. Each time, the herd tested negative for bovine TB.
To be absolutely sure, the state will test the herd a third time in a year, Eldridge said.
Because there were two negative tests, the dairy's cattle are safe to go back into commerce, he said.
The state tested more than 1,500 cattle on the ranch during the first test. The dairy has about 900 cows in production, Eldridge said.
In January a cow was found to be infected with mycobacterium bovis, the causative agent for bovine tuberculosis, in its throat. The infection was discovered when the animal was shipped to a slaughter plant and inspected by the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service.
"There are many, many strains of mycobacterium bovis that have been identified in the United States in cattle and worldwide," Eldridge said. "This strain of this organism has not been identified in a cow before."
The strain is from Mexico, but Eldridge isn't sure how it got in the cow's throat.
In the follow-up testing, 11 other animals were taken from the herd for further tests after responding to a preliminary screening for bovine TB. All 11 were found to be clean, Eldridge said.
Washington's status as a bovine TB-free state remains. Eldridge said his search process satisfied every state except Wisconsin, which placed movement restrictions on Washington cattle.
Eldridge said the investigation cost the state more than $30,000 in general funds and cost the USDA two to three times that much.
"I'm very relieved," said dairy owner Donald Juergens.
Juergens estimated he lost 2,500 pounds of milk per day for about a week every time the cattle were tested. The output dropped due to the change in the animals' routine.
"Every time you treat a cow differently, they act differently, and usually not for the good," he said.
He was compensated for the 12 animals the state tested and euthanized, but not as much as he feels they were worth.
"This is a national safety problem," he said. "I don't feel I did anything wrong and I'm not being accused of doing anything wrong. This is no different than anything else the United States government has to protect."
Juergens advised others to work with state and federal officials if they find themselves in a similar situation.
"Just bear with them, they're great people," he said. "I couldn't be more impressed."
Eldridge praised Juergens and his family for their cooperation, at a high cost to their operation.
"He stepped up and protected the whole cattle industry," Eldridge said.
Eldridge stressed the need for a more robust traceability system to eliminate the gaps in data.
"We have an excellent system at harvest, where all cattle are examined by the USDA Food Inspection Service," he said.
"Right now the traceability gaps are worrisome," Eldridge said. "We have regular reports that cattle destined to slaughter are diverted."
The state investigates the reports, but Eldridge said every part of the cattle industry needs to exchange information to eliminate the gaps.
Eldridge pointed to information such as change of ownership and livestock movement as vital for protecting the entire industry.