Thursday, July 19, 2007

on compensating ranchers

I was looking at the poll numbers on the Gazette web-site and became amazed at the number of people who don't believe ranchers whose herds are "depopulated" because of brucellosis should be compensated. They obviously don't understand the cause of the depopulation in the first place. This was not a rancher-friendly activity. Back in the days when it started, ranchers were not happy with it. They could take the loss of a heifer's first calf better than eliminating an entire herd. That's probably true today. The whole battle over brucellosis began as a public health measure, not a cattle health measure. The disease in cattle is that same as undulant fever in humans which is one of the milk fevers that used to prevent so many infants from making it to their first birthday. It also carried off a few of us older folks. And it cost the meatpackers a bundle so that those workers on the killing floor of the packing plants were compensated against their chances of getting the disease. It is an intra-cellular disease, as I understand it, that acts somewhat like malaria in that it hides for quite a while and periodically recurs. Modern medicines can treat the outbreaks to some extent, but they can't prevent the recurrences. It seems to me that we pay for modern public health services, such as the outbreaks of tb that occur, but don't give a thought to diseases that are "old" fashioned because we have dealt with them to some extent (pasteurization of milk prevents limits most of the occurrences of the disease to vets and others who deal with the reproductive systems of cattle.) It's as if there was still some wild smallpox out there, but it was so limited that we didn't get vaccinated until an outbreak had already killed a number of people. Brucellosis (undulant fever) is still out there; it still has the possibility of killing babies who come in contact with brucella bacteria; it is still a public health menace, although not as great as it once was. The effort to eliminate it is a public health effort, so cattlemen should be compensated for losing their herds. And the Park Service should make an effort to control it in bison and the forest service should make the effort to get a handle on it in elk.


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