The opportunity to take part in a historic event does not come along every day, but recently professionals at the Texas A&M Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory (TVMDL) were able to not only observe history in the making, but facilitated the event. In May, 156 cattle flew from the Port of Miami in Florida to Latacunga, Ecuador. Daily, livestock are transported around the globe, but no live cattle had been imported to South America since 2003 when borders were closed to United States animals following a positive case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), which is also known as “mad cow” disease.
The cattle’s arrival was the final step in a series of events that began last year. In October 2014, TVMDL hosted six members of Ecuador’s government. The group discussed import-export regulations and different disease issues with Amy Swinford, DVM, MS, then-microbiology branch chief, and Assistant Agency Director Terry Hensley, MS, DVM. Little did those at TVMDL know that the meeting would kick-start a buying mission resulting in more than 170 cattle being purchased, tested and, finally, exported to Ecuador to serve as the base for improving the country’s genetics.
Subsequent to the meeting at TVMDL, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) worked with Ecuadorian officials to facilitate a buying mission to Florida and Texas in early April, 2015. According to the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service’s Global Agriculture Information Network, the mission resulted in more than $730,000 in purchases of beef and dairy cattle.
“TVMDL handles export cases daily and is an important cog in a big machine that moves livestock around the world,” said Sandy Rodgers, TVMDL Serology Section head. “In March , one of our long-time clients, Dr. Richard Forgason, worked with us to ship cattle to Panama. Shortly after, he brought samples in for a shipment of cattle bound for Ecuador. Very near to that, we had another veterinarian call requesting information on Brucellosis testing, and my conversation with him resulted in TVMDL serving as the funnel for seven veterinarians testing cattle for export to Ecuador.”
After speaking with Ms. Rodgers, Florida veterinarian Dr. Matt Walter and export coordinator Renee Strickland from National Import Export Services worked to have all veterinarians working on the export cattle submit all testing to TVMDL. To export cattle, both the export country and the import country agree on test procedures and regulations. Dr. Walter said that the Minister of Agriculture in Ecuador had to write the regulations specifically for the cattle because there was no procedure.
“When we export, all of it goes through USDA,” said Dr. Walter. “From TVMDL, we had packets from each farm or ranch with all the paperwork in the same order and the same type of results. All animals were listed in the same order on all tests and paperwork, which made [the USDA’s] job easier. Part of how well it went was because Sandy worked hand-in-hand with us; she had a copy of the export requirements and so did I. We selected tests based on cost, speed of turnaround and test sensitivity.”
In total, TVMDL would perform 762 tests in three days to complete the requirements for export to Ecuador: bovine Leukosis, Johne’s disease, bovine viral diarrhea (BVD), and Q-fever. The lab also forwarded the Brucellosis test samples to USDA’s National Veterinary Services Laboratory in Ames, Iowa. Various members of the TVMDL staff were actively engaged in the testing, shipping and reporting efforts throughout the entire process. Anna Perez, TVMDL export coordinator, spent hours on the phone ensuring each veterinarian knew the appropriate samples to submit to the lab. Ms. Rodgers and the Serology Section staff performed this time-sensitive testing in addition to the section’s routine daily caseload of more than 500 tests.
“We all had to meet the protocol regulations for testing, and we got through that okay with the help of TVMDL,” said Richard Forgason, DVM, veterinarian for J.D. Hudgins, Inc. and the V8 Ranch, both of which sold Brahman cattle to Ecuador. “We sent in five blood samples from each animal. In addition to those tests, we had to negotiate diligently on Bluetongue testing and prevention, and we had to vaccinate twice during quarantine for Rabies, which we have never vaccinated for. We were happy to have TVMDL working on this collaboration.”
After three intensive days of diagnostic testing at TVMDL and NVSL, and concurrent inspection at their respective quarantine facilities, the cattle that were cleared to fly to Ecuador were sent to the port of Miami. On May 20, when the flight arrived at Latacunga, members of Ecuador’s government and press corps met the plane with cheers. Amid the fanfare of flags and a plethora of cameras, the Angus, Brangus, Brahman, Charolais, Holstein and Jersey cattle were proudly displayed.
The USDA Foreign Agriculture Service reports that Ecuador plans to purchase 20,000 to 30,000 head of cattle over the next three years. With a proven record of successful export coordination, the staff at TVMDL stands ready to assist with future shipments.
TVMDL is an AAVLD-accredited, state-of-the-art veterinary diagnostic laboratory and a core member of the National Animal Health Laboratory Network. TVMDL is one of the world’s largest and busiest veterinary diagnostic laboratories. The agency includes four laboratory facilities: two full-service labs, one in College Station and one in Amarillo, and two poultry labs, one in Center and the other in Gonzales. TVMDL serves the livestock and food animal industries and the companion animal sector through disease surveillance and diagnostic testing. TVMDL’s diverse caseload ranges from domestic livestock, companion animal and poultry cases to exotic hoofstock and zoo animals. For more information, visit tvmdl.tamu.edu.