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Brancel holds down the fort for Animal Health

Feb. 28, 2013 | 0 comments

People tell Ben Brancel that he's "lucky things have been so quiet," with State Veterinarian Dr. Bob Ehlenfeldt now retired, but he smiles and carefully says that it might seem quiet but "that isn't because nothing has been happening."

Brancel, Secretary at the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, is handling the state animal health officer duties in Ehlenfeldt's absence and deputy secretary Jeff Lyon is handling the administrative duties for the Division of Animal Health.

The agency has been taking care of business; but it hasn't all been "business as usual."

Brancel said there have been three recent investigations that have involved scrambling Lear jets to take samples to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's laboratory in Plum Island out east or hand-carrying samples to another USDA lab in Ames, IA.

The Plum Island facility is where testing is done when the super-serious foreign animal diseases are suspected.

"We also had done our due diligence to prepare for what we needed to do if we got the wrong answer from one of those labs," he said last week in a report to members of the DATCP policy board.

The idea is to get to other livestock owners quickly and prepare them for what would be asked of them in case a serious disease was discovered.

A case in point was a possible case of foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) in mid-September when suspicious vesicles were found on slaughter pigs that came from Minnesota and traveled through half of north-central Wisconsin.

A local veterinarian alerted the agency to the potentially serious disease and officials quickly determined how many livestock premises were located within a half mile of the road the animals took on their way to the slaughterhouse.

They would all be affected if the samples had been confirmed as FMD.

Agency veterinarians, trained in these serious foreign animal diseases, were quickly dispatched and samples were tested at the USDA's Plum Island Animal Disease Center off the coast of New York.

Fortunately the pigs turned out to have Seneca Valley Virus and not FMD and it was a big relief to animal health officials.

"We were all ready in case it had been foot-and-mouth disease. All of our information was ready in case it had been," Brancel said.

That's just one of the cases that can keep Brancel up at night.


The purpose of much of the animal health work at the department, he said, is to protect the marketplace for all of the state's livestock producers.

"That's the true value of animal identification and the individual premises registration," he said. "It's not designed to be a 'gotcha' program as some people perceive it to be."

A swift and thorough trace-back from any disease outbreak is the first step in securing the animal health infrastructure of the state, added Melissa Mace, director of field services in the Bureau of Animal Disease Control.

The Division of Animal Health has partnerships with USDA's animal health agencies and their wildlife service officials, in case there is an instance of domestic animals interacting with wild animals where disease could be an issue.

There are also partnerships in place with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, University Extension, public health agencies as well as humane officers and district attorneys at the county level.

There are nine field veterinarians working around the state for DATCP's Animal Health Division along with 13 animal health inspectors, two of which are federal employees. The system works in tandem with four federal animal health veterinarians and four compliance officers who make sure people are following state and federal rules and regulations.

Those officers do mobile enforcements at borders and markets, issue warning notices and do education on what's allowed and what isn't.

A big part of the system is having all these agency personnel work with private, accredited veterinarians so they know who to call and what to look for with regard to serious foreign animal diseases that could turn into a serious threat to Wisconsin's livestock industry or even human health.

That's how the system worked with that possible FMD case.

Mace said all this groundwork is put in place so that if anything happens it will have little, if any, effect on the state's animal disease status. There have been 258 confirmatory tests in the last year to determine if animals had some of these serious diseases, and fortunately none involved the worst possible diagnosis.

This pro-active outreach and building of relationships throughout the state infrastructure of emergency management and veterinary care - with 450 private veterinary clinics around the state - is one reason that it seems to the public as if things are all quiet and "nothing is happening."

Veterinary practitioners are legally required to report suspected cases of certain diseases to DATCP.

Some are diseases that have never been seen in the United States while others are diseases that are under eradication programs like pseudorabies and bovine tuberculosis.

Some of these so-called foreign animal diseases are so serious they must be reported within one day of diagnosis. For others the requirement is to report them within 10 days of diagnosis.

There are currently 68,001 livestock premises registered with the state and that database is called into serious use when there's a possible case of serious disease.

Brancel and Lyon will continue to help out in the Animal Health Division for a while. The agency isn't able to fill or even advertise for the State Veterinarian's position until all of Ehlenfeldt's sabbatical time has been used up.

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