New federal CWD regulations to be reviewed

Texas

Commissioners for the Texas Animal Health Commission, the state's domestic and exotic livestock and poultry health regulatory agency on Aug. 1 proposed a repeal of in-state movement requirements for elk, which had included mandatory premises and animal identification, and movement reporting requirements. Written public comment on the rule repeal will be accepted by the TAHC until 5 p.m. Friday, Oct. 6. Statements may be e-mailed to comments@tahc.state.tx.us or mailed to Comments, TAHC, Box 12966, Austin, TX 78711-2966.

"The in-state movement regulations for elk were adopted and enacted in Texas in January 2006, prior to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's commitment that the premises and animal identification was to remain voluntary," said Dr. Bob Hillman, TAHC executive director and Texas' state veterinarian. He explained that the TAHC commissioners in early April tabled proposed premises registration requirements for all premises with livestock or poultry (except those with elk), but they encourage voluntary participation.

"Due to timing, the elk industry, which had helped to develop the rules, was ahead of other species for animal identification. Elk producers requested that the rule be rescinded to allow for voluntary participation, as is the case for other species. If the proposal is adopted as a final rule by the TAHC commissioners at their December 5, 2006, commission meeting, the elk identification rule for in-state movement could be officially repealed by January 2007," he said.

"Texas has strict health requirements for elk entering the state, including prior approval of entry permits, individual animal identification, and testing for brucellosis and TB. Elk also must come from herds that have been monitored for chronic wasting disease for a period of three to five years, depending on the CWD situation in the state of origin. Right now, there are no proposed changes to the entry requirements," said Hillman.

Elk are under the TAHC's regulatory authority as exotic livestock and are susceptible to a number of livestock diseases, including brucellosis and tuberculosis. Elk producers and animal health officials also are concerned about chronic wasting disease, a brain-wasting disease of elk and deer that has not been found in Texas, but has been detected in captive deer and/or elk herds in South Dakota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Minnesota, Montana, Kansas, Oklahoma and New York. CWD also has been confirmed in wild deer and/or elk in Colorado, Wyoming, Nebraska, South Dakota, Utah, New Mexico, Wisconsin, Illinois and New York.

"The USDA has just published new CWD regulations for state-to-state movement of deer and elk, and stipulate requirements for a CWD herd status program. These new federal regulations may require additional rulemaking by the TAHC to assure that Texas has a CWD program consistent with national requirements," commented Hillman. "In the coming weeks, we will review the new federal rules in depth to determine how they will impact producers, and what regulatory changes may be needed to bring Texas into compliance," said Hillman. The findings will be reported at the Dec. 5 TAHC commission meeting in Austin.

Hillman also reported to the TAHC commissioners that free, voluntary registration of livestock and/or poultry premises continues to increase. As of Aug. 1, 18,000 Texas premises had been registered. Nationally, 282,394 were registered as of July 14, with premises identification compulsory in Wisconsin and, in September, in Indiana. Livestock and poultry owners who register their premises provide to the state veterinarian's office their name, farm or ranch physical address, phone number and a list of the species raised on the property. Acreage or number of animals is not requested. Information gathered is protected from disclosure, but provides animal health officials a way to quickly contact animal owners, if a disease outbreak occurs.

"Having access to contact information for livestock or poultry owners in an area is much more efficient and effective than canvassing an area by truck, or going door-to-door when a disease outbreak occurs," said Hillman. "In a disease outbreak, there is no time to spare, and it's not just the infected herd or flock that must be tested. To ensure that a disease outbreak has been eliminated, animals in a widespread area around the outbreak site must come under disease surveillance. In 2004, when avian influenza was detected in Gonzales County, more than 350 owners of noncommercial (backyard) poultry in the area around the infected flock location were contacted, so birds could be tested."

"The TAHC is charged with detecting, controlling and eradicating regulatory diseases in livestock, exotic livestock and poultry," said Hillman. "With fewer than 200 employees, we cannot do it alone, and producers have a responsibility to report disease issues to their veterinarian or the TAHC. We must have support and cooperation from producers and owners to ensure that Texas' livestock and poultry and associated products are welcomed by Texas consumers, other states and other nations."

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