Industry Holds Educational Tour in South Texas
—Focus on Animal Health, Border Security Issues
DEVINE, TEXAS – National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) Chief Veterinarian Elizabeth Parker participated in a tour of United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) livestock import and export facilities near Eagle Pass, Texas, as well as Morales Feed Lots, Inc., in Devine, Texas, in conjunction with the National Institute of Animal Agriculture annual convention. The tour was hosted by the Texas Farm Bureau and included discussions led by the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service Veterinary Services (APHIS VS), Texas Cattle Feeders Association (TCFA) and the Texas Animal Health Commission (TAHC) as part of an ongoing effort to educate animal health stakeholders and policy decision makers about border issues; bovine tuberculosis (TB); and Cattle Fever Tick eradication programs.
The tour focused on border security issues affecting the beef cattle industry and how APHIS and State animal health officials in Texas work to safely import cattle into the United States.
“Today’s tour gave us the opportunity to further educate stakeholders within the animal health sector and government personnel about unique challenges facing cattle ranchers and feeders along the United States’ border with Mexico,” Parker said. “NCBA has worked collaboratively and proactively with APHIS for more than 100 years, and tours like this one allow us to further strengthen that critical working relationship.”
Parker said a topic of discussion throughout the day was USDA’s APHIS current TB program, which has resulted in the incidence of TB in U.S. cattle to less than 0.001 percent.
“In order to successfully eradicate the disease though, we have to close current knowledge gaps surrounding this complicated disease. Oversimplifying the issue and closing the border between the United States and Mexico will not result in TB eradication and will cause significant economic harm to the U.S. beef cattle industry.” Parker said. “The tour provided valuable discussion with state veterinarians from outside of border states as well as APHIS personnel about the current TB program and about testing, surveillance and prevention updates that need to be made to improve the program.”
In addition to discussing TB issues during the tour, the group also honed in on challenges caused by Cattle Fever Tick. The National Cattle Fever Tick Program was initiated in 1906 and has had tremendous success with eliminating the tick from its historic range in the United States, but Parker said lack of U.S. government investment in new prevention and treatment methods to eradicate ticks and the increased challenges with managing wildlife has caused a recursion of tick habitat outside of the buffer zone in Mexico.
“If Cattle Fever Tick outbreaks are not contained and eliminated in South Texas, there is potential for reintroduction of fever ticks, which could ultimately result in a large number of U.S. cattle being lost to the disease and cost hundreds of millions of dollars in economic impact to the affected areas,” Parker said. “While progress is being made after the last few years setback, we need additional research, surveillance and mitigation tools to help us eliminate the threat of Cattle Fever Tick.”
Parker said that importing Mexican cattle to the United States is an important part of the U.S. beef industry. Beef cattle industry associations in the United States and Mexico have worked diligently to ensure safe trade between the countries. As a result, significant progress has been made in Mexico to eradicate TB from exported feeder cattle. While there are some challenges with biosecurity from cattle imported from Mexico, Parker said effective controls can prevent and mitigate disease risks and that industry input is critical in addressing these challenges.
Violence along the border has also impacted the import and export sector of the beef cattle industry. Historically, USDA veterinarians conduct health inspections as well as perform Cattle Fever Tick mitigation techniques prior to importation into Texas. However, due to violence along the border, USDA stopped its veterinarians from traveling to Mexico to conduct health inspections. Subsequently, Mexican cattle are transported across the border and are inspected at temporary inspection stations on the U.S. side of the border, like the one at Eagle Pass, Texas, that the group visited on the tour.
“The cooperation between TAHC, USDA, Mexico’s department of agriculture (SAGARPA) and both countries’ respective cattle industries has been the key to creating a functional and biosecure temporary inspection process,” Dee Ellis, TAHC executive director said. “We will continue to enhance trade and marketability of feeder cattle while simultaneously helping to ensure Mexican cattle entering Texas are healthy and free of pests such as fever ticks.”
The tour of Morales Feed Lots, Inc., was the latest educational effort by NCBA, the TCFA, Texas Farm Bureau and the TAHC to educate policymakers who will have a role in updating the U.S. TB program. Later this year, NCBA will host a webinar for stakeholders who were not able to participate in the tour to update them on these critical issues and to continue the educational efforts.
“Tours like this one are a great opportunity to provide the state and federal animal health officials who are responsible for writing rules and regulations with a first hand, visual account of the cattle feeding sector,” said Ernie Morales, a third generation cattle feeder and chairman of the TAHC. “I hope the participants found the tour productive and left with a better appreciation of the animal health and biosecurity practices employed at cattle feedlots.”