In the battle to eliminate bovine tuberculosis from El Paso and Hudspeth counties in Texas, USDA plans to buy out the remaining 10 dairies in the area. Officials believe removal of all dairies there is necessary to eliminate the problems they have had with chronic TB.

The USDA has $59 million earmarked for the project. Producers will receive market value for their livestock and can use the money to start over dairying — just not in the El Paso area. The buyout plan doesn’t have local producers who have been farming in that area for generations jumping for joy. But they have little choice.

USDA officials say the buyout is the last step needed to close the door on TB in this area. And by not allowing any new livestock operations to be set up in the area they will create a buffer zone that will hopefully keep Texas livestock from being re-infected with the disease.

In the United States, just a few pockets of bovine TB exist — upper Michigan, Tulare County in California and the El Paso area. In California and Michigan USDA has been buying out infected herds, sending them to slaughter and trying to set up safeguards to prevent re-infection from wildlife. However, it will take more than that to beat TB in Texas. That’s because just across the river in Mexico TB is at epidemic levels in the cattle population.

According to Dan Baca, TB epidemiologist with the Texas Animal Health Commission, TB has been a consistent problem in the El Paso area for the past 20 years. Each time farms are quarantined, infected animals are destroyed and steps are taken to safeguard the livestock operation from future infection. However, it seems every time Texas eradicates TB it comes back within two to three years. Although the source of the infections has never officially been determined, officials believe birds or other wildlife carry the disease from infected dairies in nearby Juarez, Mexico.

The buyout program will take place gradually over the next two years.

HoustonChronicle.com