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Bovine tuberculosis tests in Nebraska come back clean

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP)--Another round of tests for tuberculosis in Nebraska cattle has come back clean, buoying hopes in the nation's top beef-producing state that the disease will remain more of a worry than an imminent threat to livelihoods.

The state Department of Agriculture announced July 6 that 3,300 cattle tested negative for the bovine form of the disease between June 22 and June 28. An additional 1,700 cattle tested negative earlier.

Results are pending on about 1,200 cattle tested from June 29 through July 6.

"I'm not going to say this has been a non-issue, because it hasn't,'' said Bim Nelson, owner of the Bassett Livestock Auction. Two cattle from a herd just southeast of Bassett tested positive for the disease this spring, causing agriculture officials to quarantine more than 15,000 cattle in 14 counties. "But as far as prices, there's been zero effect.''

Nelson was gearing up for a two-day auction beginning July 8, the biggest of the year, which he said would be a "barn full.'' That prediction, based on talks with buyers and combined with a strong crowd and relatively high prices at a sale two weeks ago, could be a sign that worries over the disease are not dampening the market.

Nelson partially attributed the lack of anxiety to many Nebraska feedlots being accustomed to buying cattle from states such as California that have had problems with tuberculosis.

State officials were cautious July 6 when releasing test results, saying it was too soon to interpret them as a sign the disease might be confined to the one herd.

Should another herd be found to have an infected animal, Nebraska could lose the TB-free status beef producers use to help market their products.

"It's premature for us to be real optimistic just because we haven't tested all the animals,'' said Christin Kamm, a Department of Agriculture spokeswoman.

About 9,000 cattle remain to be tested. Kamm said veterinarians will test aggressively over the next two weeks.

Once that round is done, testing will slow significantly until the early fall. Many ranchers with quarantined cattle want to wait until then to have their animals tested so the breeding cycle currently under way isn't disturbed or the cattle aren't stressed in the heat of the summer.

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