Bovine TB identified in Ottawa Co. cattle herd

BLENDON TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — State officials say a herd of roping cattle in Ottawa County is being monitored after two confirmed cases of bovine tuberculosis.

The infected cattle were found during processing, according to officials with the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. Five head of cattle were destroyed after the disease was discovered.

Department policy prevents the state from releasing the name and precise location of the farm, but it is in the area of 72nd Avenue and Baldwin Street in Blendon Township.

Farms within three miles of there will be under surveillance and must complete bovine TB testing within six months. The state plans to notify farms within the surveillance zone through individual letters.

Doug Hassevoort’s cattle farm is in the surveillance zone. So far, there’s no evidence his 400-head herd has been infected.

“I’m pretty sure there is not a problem,” Hassevoort said. “If they find more in the area, yeah, it could snowball into something bigger. But that’s very unlikely.”

State officials agree.

“We feel we have a handle on it,” said James Averill, state veterinarian and animal industry division director for MDARD.

Still, the discovery sets up a frightening scenario for farmers. Dairy alone is a $16 billion a year industry in Michigan. Farmers in Ottawa County raised some 42,000 head of cattle last year.

“Ottawa County has a lot of cattle producers, and us detecting the disease now versus years down the road minimizes the impact to the cattle industry,” Averill said.

When an animal with bovine TB is identified at a processing plant, the department tracks where it has traveled through a radio-frequency identification ear tag. The Ottawa County cases first set off alarms that a problem that they thought had been isolated to northeast Michigan had spread.

“When you find bovine tuberculosis in another part of the state, it always worries you about what has broken down in our system,” Averill said.

But he said investigators are now confident they know the source: It was cow-to-cow, its origin a herd in Franklin County, Indiana, were bovine TB was found in 2016.

According to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, bovine tuberculosis can cause TB in people who consume contaminated unpasteurized dairy products or have direct contact with a wound, such as inhaling the bacteria during slaughtering. But the CDC says bovine TB is responsible for less than 2 percent of total human TB cases in the U.S.

Beef cattle processors check for the bovine TB and pasteurization kills the bacteria in milk.

“Between those two processes, you have several safeguards in place, and so it is very safe for humans,” Averill said.

A public meeting concerning the Ottawa County outbreak is scheduled for 7 p.m. March 6 at the Grandville Middle School Auditorium.

— The Associated Press contributed to this story.