Brucellosis policy

An elk grazes in Yellowstone National Park. A new draft policy issued by USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service will allow researchers to better study transmission of the disease to livestock.

USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service has issued a draft policy statement to allow researchers to conduct brucellosis studies in large animals in outdoor settings.

The ability to conduct outdoor research involving cattle, bison, elk and swine will help APHIS gain important tools and information to continue with brucellosis eradication, the agency stated.

Endemic Brucella abortus is expanding its range in the Greater Yellowstone area, and Brucella suis is being found in more feral swine populations throughout the various areas of the U.S., according to the agency.

“This expansion emphasizes a critical need for both improved diagnostics and vaccine development related to wildlife,” the agency said.

Traditional studies will not work for wildlife species, but this draft policy provides an outline for safely conducting outdoor studies. The information gathered in these studies will help both wildlife managers and livestock producers while still addressing the need to handle Brucella according to select agent requirements, the agency said.

Previous brucellosis outdoor studies were not conducted in compliance with the select agent and toxin regulations and were subsequently terminated.

The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and U.S. Cattlemen’s Association released statements on the move Wednesday.

“This announcement is welcome news for cattle producers that face uncertainty from wildlife infected with brucellosis threatening the well-being of their animals and operations,” Kathy Simmons, chief veterinarian for NCBA, said.

She thanked USDA Secretary Sonny Purdue, USDA Undersecretary Greg Ibach and their team for developing a framework to advance brucellosis efforts through improved opportunities to study disease transmission between cattle and wildlife.

In 1996, the U.S. had 11 facilities capable of performing this type of research. Now there are none capable of studying large mammals in containment while also following proper biosecurity protocols, said Dwight Keller, chairman of USCA’s animal health and identification committee.

“For years, USCA and other animal health leaders have called for the allowance of Brucella research to study vaccine responses to natural infections in cattle, swine, elk or bison,” he said.

Though certain Brucella strains will remain on the select agents list, the USDA APHIS announcement broadens the scope of possibilities by allowing for the consideration of Brucella research in outdoor settings, he said.

Brucellosis — also known as spontaneous abortion or Bang’s disease — is a contagious costly disease with significant animal health, public health and international trade consequences. The disease can cause lower milk production, abortion and fertility issues.

USDA’s Cooperative State Federal Brucellosis Eradication Program aimed at domestic cattle and bison has made huge progress. In 1956, there were 124,000 affected herds. By 1992, that number had dropped to 700 herds and has declined to single digits since. Annual production losses have declined from $400 million in 1952 to less than $1 million today, according to USDA.

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