Bovine TB quarantine marred by lack of transparency, Alberta rancher tells Ottawa MPs

A cattle rancher in southeastern Alberta at the centre of the bovine tuberculosis outbreak told politicians in Ottawa Tuesday that the federal response has been marked by a lack of urgency or transparency.

Brad Osadczuk testified before Parliament’s standing committee on agriculture that his family’s ranching business is going further and further into debt while the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) continues the investigation it began on Sept. 22.

Rancher Brad Osadczuk tells Ottawa the bovine TB quarantine has mired him in hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt0:32

“It’s been a long two months,” he said.

“As a community, it’s been very tough on everybody … There’s very little flow of information.”

The late-September discovery that one of Osadczuk’s cows had the contagious bacterial disease prompted the CFIA to quarantine his operation, along with 33 others in southeastern Alberta and two in Saskatchewan, as it tries to determine the source of the TB and how far it has spread.

Five other cattle linked to Osadczuk’s herd have since tested positive for TB.

In the meantime, Osadczuk — whose operation was already in debt — is left with the responsibility to feed animals he cannot sell and which might have to be destroyed.

“So we owe the bank hundreds of thousands of dollars, and we go, ‘Oh, hey, by the way, we need a couple hundred thousand dollars for feed for some cows that are, in the end, going to die,” he said to the committee.

The CFIA pays for animals that it kills, but there is no compensation for other costs. About 18,000 cattle are under quarantine in the region.

Osadczuk told the committee that local veterinarians should be used for the TB testing to speed up the process.

“This is going to take months longer, the way we’re going right now,” he said.

Rancher fears long-term industry impact

Ranchers Ross White and Warren Henry, whose herds are also under quarantine, testified at the hearing via teleconference from Alberta.

White told the committee he’s worried about the long-term effect the outbreak could have on confidence in Alberta beef.

“We may well be quarantined by the buyers long after the CFIA quarantine has lifted,” White said.

“This truly was a disaster, and the way in which the quarantine was handled made the process even more devastating. The lack of communication and concern for us as ranchers running a business is totally lacking,” he added.

Conservative committee member MP David Anderson said the government should consider compensating the ranchers by taking over ownership of the affected herds.

“Certainly, I think that’s one thing, given the size of this, we hope we can move the government to do,” he said. 

Anderson sent out a press release, along with fellow Conservatives Kevin Sorenson, Martin Shields and Glen Motz, laying out their arguments for funding, which closely mimicked Osadczuk’s concerns. 

“Winter is here and many producers in southeastern Alberta and Saskatchewan do not have the resources to feed their cattle,” said Sorenson in the release. 

“Many are wondering whether they will be compensated for the added expense of feeding their cattle all winter. Interim funding for these ranchers is absolutely critical.”

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