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Agriculture Today

Things get ‘ticky’ on Capitol Hill

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Wilson County News
March 8, 2012 | 4,489 views | Post a comment

While an increase in the deer population along the U.S.-Texas border may be a bounty for trophy hunters, cattlemen have another concern -- fever ticks. This was evident when U.S. Customs and Border Control agents confiscated a deer cape infested with 23 cattle fever ticks -- carriers of bovine babesiosis. This incident occurred as Congress discussed deleting the Livestock Title, including disease control funding, from the 2012 Farm Bill. (See related article, above.)

To understand the significance of fever ticks in South Texas and pseudorabies within the state, Dee Ellis, DVM MPA, executive director/state veterinarian of the Texas Animal Health Commission, provided the following information Feb. 27, when asked about the move to delete the Livestock Title, containing funding for programs to reduce or eradicate pseudorabies and fever ticks, from the 2012 Farm Bill.

The fever tick program in Texas is primarily managed by USDA Veterinary Services under the authority of the Texas Animal Health Commission, Ellis said, and “so far funding at the federal level has been impacted less than most animal health programs.”

“Historically TAHC [Texas Animal Health Commission] receives about one-third of its funding from the USDA cooperative funds. In the last couple of years, that funding has been cut drastically, and we expect bigger cuts in FY [fiscal year] 2013,” Ellis said.

“The Texas Animal Health Commission receives no funding however for PRV [psuedorabies] or fever tick programs currently. The majority of the funds received historically by the agency are for brucellosis and tuberculosis. So the concurrent reduction in state and federal funds to the agency has resulted in a 50-percent reduction in funds for FY 2012 and the agency has reduced its staff by one-third in the last year as a result.”


“There are 3 million feral swine in Texas and approximately 20 percent are believed to be affected by PRV [pseudorabies] and 10 percent have swine brucellosis,” Ellis said.

The Texas Animal Health Commission prohibits the movement of feral swine except to slaughter, a state-licensed feral swine holding facility, or a Texas Park and Wildlife-permitted hunting preserve.

The state of Texas is swine brucellosis- and pseudorabies-free, Ellis said, due to surveillance on domestic swine population, with a majority found in the Panhandle area of the state, and the testing of all adult hogs sold at a livestock market or at slaughter.

Fever tick program

While advances had been made in reducing pseudorabies, fever ticks continue to plague Texas, mainly due to its proximity to Mexico.

According to a February 2011 USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service Veterinary Services factsheet, a permanent quarantine buffer zone exists between Texas and Mexico, extending more than 500 miles from Del Rio to the Gulf of Mexico.

“As of October 2009, 72 premises outside the quarantined area were known to be infested, compared to eight infected premises in October 2006 -- a ninefold increase in three years.”

In a Feb. 15, 2011, Federal Register posting, the USDA stated the “increase in outbreaks is attributed to numerous factors, including the free movement of deer and stray livestock carrying ticks across the U.S.-Mexico border and an increase in the overall deer population.”

The USDA estimates if the fever tick eradication program did not exist, the U.S. cattle industry’s losses from cattle fever could amount to approximately $1 billion annually.

“As a member of the House Agriculture Committee whose geographic district is made up largely of rural areas, I understand the importance of fever tick eradication funding and have been active in bringing unprecedented assistance to South Texas ranchers to combat the outbreak,” U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar said Feb. 28, when asked about this issue.

Only time will tell if the disease-control funding will avoid the congressional chopping block.

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