Brucellosis Test Criticized
- Brucellosis test criticized
By BECKY BOHRER of the Associated Press
State defends new method, but some conservationists say it will lead to more
BILLINGS - A new test that state and federal officials say is more accurate
in detecting the cattle disease brucellosis in bison is drawing criticism
from some conservationists, who fear it will lead to the slaughter of more
bison that enter Montana from Yellowstone National Park.
"They are not interested in protecting bison but in protecting cattle," said
D.J. Schubert, a wildlife biologist and consultant to the Fund for Animals.
Officials, however, defend the test as focused on the disease that afflicts
Bison that leave Yellowstone and cannot be hazed back into the park are
captured and tested for brucellosis under a plan implemented by several
state and federal agencies.
Beginning this winter, officials have been administering a second, newer
test that is believed to be more accurate in detecting the disease, which
can cause pregnant cattle to abort.
So far this winter, 23 of the 34 bison captured when they could not be hazed
back into the park were slaughtered after testing positive for brucellosis,
said Karen Cooper, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Livestock.
In the year ending Sept. 30, 2001, when the newer test was not used, five of
the 14 bison captured tested positive. In the past four years, 100 bison
were sent to slaughter after testing positive, she said.
Veterinarians and livestock officials say the test being used this winter
represents the best available technology. Valerie Ragan, a national
brucellosis epidemiologist with the U.S. Agriculture Department's Animal and
Plant Health Inspection Service, disputed his argument.
"We're trying to focus on the disease issue. If the blood tests show that
(the bison) are likely to be infected, that is what has to be acted on,"
Ragan said. "We're trying to keep the disease under control."
It took the state of Montana decades and millions of dollars to have its
livestock herds declared free of brucellosis in the mid-1980s, agriculture
"The unfortunate, sad truth is that a number of (bison) in the area are
indeed infected," Ragan said. "If we capture a lot of those animals, they're
going to test positive. If we have a test that is more accurate, the results
will be more accurate. We're trying to use the best science that we have."
The new test employs a small machine connected to a laptop computer that can
analyze a blood sample taken from the bison. A computer screen displays the
results and a decision on whether the bison should be sent to slaughter can
be made in the field, officials said.
Ken Lee, a veterinarian with the Livestock Department, said the test
significantly reduces the risk of human error, particularly in interpreting
the results. It is both sensitive and specific in measuring the disease, he
said, adding: "I am quite confident in this test."
Mike Mease of the Buffalo Field Campaign said he worries about possible
effects on the Yellowstone herd.
"With this new test, it will equate to the killing of more of the last,
free-ranging buffalo needlessly," Mease said.