BOISE (AP) - The U.S. Department of Agriculture will likely strip Idaho of its coveted brucellosis-free status following infections in eastern and central Idaho, a move that would force cattle ranchers to do expensive testing before their animals are shipped out of state.
The decision is expected in January, state Department of Agriculture officials said. Idaho, which has had brucellosis-free status since 1991, says it may challenge the federal move.
Lifting the status would force ranchers to test female and uncastrated male cattle over 18 months old before selling them across state lines, according to minimum testing guidelines.
In addition, cattle herds in eastern Idaho that have contact with wild elk in the winter also may have to be tested for the disease. Elk, along with bison, are major carriers of brucellosis in the area near Yellowstone National Park.
"We will continue our vigilance, and we will ask cattle owners to do the same," said state Agriculture Director Pat Takasugi.
The infection can lead to spontaneous abortions, infertility, decreased milk production and weight loss in cattle, elk, bison and other mammals. It is rarely transmitted to humans.
More than 50 cattle were slaughtered in eastern Idaho after veterinarians confirmed brucellosis infections at a Swan Valley beef ranch in early October. A second case was discovered in an Arco feedlot, where an infected heifer from the Swan Valley herd had been shipped.
According to federal rules, two cases of brucellosis in one state within two years trigger the automatic loss of disease-free status.
Still, Idaho said it may appeal, arguing that because the infected heifer at the Arco feedlot originated in the Swan Valley herd, the cases shouldn't be considered separately.
Idaho could apply to regain its brucellosis-free status if no infected cattle are found in 2006.
Neighboring Wyoming lost its brucellosis-free status in 2004.
Get local news delivered to your inbox!
Subscribe to our Daily Headlines newsletter.