Editorial: Discovery in Saginaw County adds wrinkle to bovine TB questions

A small story this week from Associated Press could have major implications for all of Michigan, and should be of particular interest to Northeast Michigan residents.

The story, out of Saginaw, indicated that several dairy cows had tested positive for bovine tuberculosis recently. In researching the story further by reading reports from the Midland Daily News and Mlive.com, one deer initially tested positive so, as is normal, the rest of the herd then was tested as well.

As a result of the discovery, farms within a 10-mile radius of the infected cattle now will have their livestock tested by the state. There are 66 farms within that 10-mile circle.

Potentially, the extent of the problem could be massive if more TB is found in any of the other farms.

And, as state officials wrestle with this discovery, they have to answer the question “from where did the disease come from?”

From our perspective, the eventual answer to that question is extremely important. If it came from a cow sold into that farm from Up North, that would be one thing. If it developed from any other source, that could be scientifically significant.

Since bovine TB reared its ugly head again in Northeast Michigan in 1994, the disease has been confined to our region – until now. However, bovine TB used to exist across all of Michigan. In fact, according to the state’s official website, Michigan.gov, one out of every 20 cattle slaughtered in the United States in 1917 had bovine TB. Looking at historic maps at that same site, in the 1920s every county in Michigan had TB-infected cattle.

Admittedly we are not biologists, but we’ve always believed bovine TB is a cyclical disease that lies dormant in the environment until something triggers it. Unfortunately for us, the trigger occurred in Northeast Michigan first and was made worse when domestic cattle intermingled with wild deer. For nearly 20 years biologists have tried different methods to contain and eliminate the disease here.

However, if our hypothesis is correct, then eventually it would start showing up elsewhere as well. Could Saginaw be the next location? And, now that it does exist there, how might it impact wild animals in that area?

Welcome to our nightmare.