The truth about bovines, badgers and the spread of TB

Convention held that humans had caught tuberculosis from cattle – but the DNA record tells a different story
Badger and cow
 The UK’s proposed large-scale cull of badgers to control the spread of TB in cattle has been postponed. Photograph: Natural Visions/Alamy

Mycobacteria and TB have been in the news a lot recently. In fact, one particular species has been hogging the limelight: Mycobacterium bovis. As its name suggests, it likes to infect cows, but as we’re recently all too aware, it’s quite happy in badgers too.

There are about 120 species of mycobacteria. They’re rod-like bacilli with a thick, waxy cell wall. The “human” member of the Mycobacterium family (using this word conversationally, as Mycobacterium is of course a genus, not a family, taxonomically) is M tuberculosis. From its point of view, it’s very successful. From our point of view, it’s the most important bacterial disease that afflicts us, causing about one-and-a-half million deaths a year.

This is how TB is caught: you breathe in tiny droplets of fluid containing just a few bacilli. In your lungs, your own immune cells move in and swallow up the bugs – but this is exactly what they want. Inside the immune cell, the bacilli replicate and pile up. More immune cells pile in. If you’re lucky, the bacilli are held tight in this lump, this tubercle. If you’re unlucky, the bugs get out and the disease spreads – through your lungs (and you start coughing up droplets with bacilli in, ready to infect someone else), through your whole body, even getting into your bones.

But this isn’t the story written in the DNA of the bacilli. In 1999, an early genetic study cast doubt on the ancestor-descendant relationship between the bovine and human forms of TB. More studies confirmed the new story. If anything, the ancestor of both human and bovine forms must have been closer to the human form – with its larger chromosome. It’s even possible that cows caught TB from us (or at least, from another mammal that had caught “human” TB).

Using molecular clocks to date the age of M tuberculosis, looking for the last common ancestor of current versions of the bug, is problematic, and has produced a great range of dates from 15-40,000 years ago. All of these easily predate farming. However, this date is likely to just record a population crash in TB, probably because of a crash in the numbers of its host. Humans (and their ancestors) could have been suffering from TB for hundreds of thousands of years before then.

Earlier this year, filming for BBC2’s Prehistoric Autopsy series, I visited Göttingen, and the lab of Professor Michael Schultz. He showed me a fascinating fossil, a piece of a Homo erectus skull, found in a travertine tile factory in Turkey. Scientific articles can be dry, stuffy things, but the one in which Michael described the fossil includes this fantastic quote: “Given the nature of its discovery in a factory workshop, the hominin was unfortunately reduced to a standard rough-cut tile thickness of 35mm.”

Despite the rough treatment of the fossil, the bone was very well preserved, and on the inner surface of the skull, Michael showed me clusters of small pits – things that just shouldn’t be there in normal bone. They were quite clearly pathological, and Michael believed that the best explanation for them, given their appearance and their position inside the skull, was meningitis caused by M tuberculosis. Here was evidence for a human ancestor suffering from TB, half a million years ago.

Back to the present, and TB has scarcely been out of the news for the past few weeks. The Great Badger Cull has become one of the hottest political potatoes of the year. So what is the scientific evidence? Well, it seems pretty clear that badgers do help spread bovine TB. But that also seems to be where the certainty ends. Bovine TB in the UK has been going up and up – but how much of that is due to better diagnosis? And could culling badgers really help to reduce it? A study published in the journal Nature in 2006 showed that culling badgers reduced the rates of TB among cattle in the area where the cull took place – but increased it in neighbouring areas. In 2011, based on the results of previous trials, scientists advised the current government that culling 70% of badgers in large areas could result in a 16% reduction in bovine TB. For the government, that was enough.

But some scientists are now concerned that the cull – particularly if carried out by free shooting, which hasn’t been trialled, or if targets are missed – could make matters worse.

For this winter, the badgers are safe. Like Caesar presiding over a bizarre gladiatorial contest, environment secretary Owen Paterson granted the badgers a stay of execution, at the eleventh hour. There are just too many of them to make a 70% cull achievable this late in the year.

So the debate continues. It’s an argument about science, politics and economics. It centres on protecting food animals from harm, just as our ancestors have done since farming first got started. But, to me, it also raises interesting questions about how we see ourselves and other animals. It’s about how much we see ourselves as a “dominant” species, entitled to subjugate the needs of other animals beneath our own. It’s about how much room we demand as a human population (with a taste for milk and beef) and how much room we’re prepared to make for wildlife.

And let’s not forget, if it hadn’t been for us, cattle and badgers might not have had TB in the first place.

The Global Beef Trade Is Destroying the Amazon

The cows grazed under a hot sun near a wooden bridge spanning a river in the Amazon. The quiet was occasionally broken by a motorbike growling along a dirt road that cut through the sprawling cattle ranch.

But the idyllic pasture was on land that the Lagoa do Triunfo ranch has been forbidden to use for cattle since 2010, when it was embargoed by Brazil’s environment agency Ibama as a punishment for deforestation. Nearby there were more signs of fresh pasture: short grass, feeding troughs, and fresh salt used to feed cattle — all in apparent contravention of rules designed to protect vital rainforest.

This vast 145,000 hectare ranch is one of several owned by AgroSB Agropecuária SA — a company known in the region as Santa Barbara. Located in an environmentally protected area, Lagoa do Triunfo is more than 600km from the capital of the Amazon state of Pará, on the western fringes of Brazil’s “agricultural frontier” — where farming eats into the rainforest.

The investigation found that last year the Lagoa do Triunfo ranch delivered hundreds of heads of cattle to some of Santa Barbara’s other farms for the final stage of fattening. Cattle was then sent from those farms to slaughter in JBS plants. Using GPS and publicly available maps and locations, reporters located cattle and pasture inside embargoed areas at Lagoa do Triunfo.

The revelations come as work by Trase, an NGO, shared exclusively with our team, has revealed how huge swathes of felled rainforest can be traced back to this cattle trade — and how beef raised on deforested land ends up in international supply chains.

Embargoes — restrictions that ban farmers guilty of deforestation or environmental damage from using parts of their own land — are imposed by the Brazilian government and serve both as a punishment and a protective measure to allow land to recover. They can be more effective than fines because they come at a higher cost for farmers.

But our investigative team visited land clearly demarcated as embargoed on government websites, and found grazing cows there. A worker at the ranch said that cattle were left to roam in areas employees knew were embargoed. “You can’t cut down the vegetation,” the employee said. “The vegetation grows and we work the cattle inside.”

Santa Barbara is an enormous, powerful ranching empire, owned by the billionaire Daniel Dantas, that controls half a million hectares across Pará. In 2008 Dantas was twice arrested on bribery charges and handed a ten-year sentence as a result of a corruption investigation that also saw his land confiscated. The investigation’s findings were subsequently overturned, the sentence dropped and Dantas got all his land back.

Over the past decade, according to Repórter Brasil, Santa Barbara has been accused of illegal deforestation and faced allegations of using slave-like labour — accusations it strongly denies. Lagoa do Triunfo is one of its largest ranches. There are 12 separate embargoed areas on it, dating from 2010 to 2013.

The Wild West on the Edge of the Amazon

With a population of 125,000 people and over two million cattle, the nearby town of Sao Félix do Xingu, in Pará state, covers an area bigger than Scotland. Cattle ranching fed its growth from remote Amazon outpost to busy town. And there is money here: farmers’ wives are happy to pay $600 for a handbag, said Kelli Moraes, a 25-year-old sales assistant. “They are very fashion.”

Sao Félix do Xingu was mostly forest when Arlindo Rosa, now president of the town’s union of rural producers, arrived in 1993. “There was practically none of this farming … there was no highway, there was nothing,” he said.

“People came from outside with the spirit to raise cattle,” said his vice-president, Francisco Torres, who arrived in 1987. Santa Barbara, the region’s biggest ranching company, began buying land near Sao Félix do Xingu in 2006, Torres said.

Torres said many ranches in the area have suffered Ibama embargoes. “If they removed those embargoes, a lot would improve,” said Rosa. As is common with farmers and landowners in Amazon areas, both men were critical of what they saw as overzealous environmental controls. Rosa owes $1.4 million to Ibama in fines for deforestation, according to the agency’s website.

But embargoes have not stopped Santa Barbara illegally grazing cattle on deforested land, nor JBS being able to perfectly legally do business with the company, our investigation found.

JBS Beef Brazil’s “responsible procurement policy” says it “does not purchase animals from farms involved in deforestation of native forests … or that are embargoed” by Ibama. But the company has also said that the common practice of transferring cattle from one farm to another for fattening can make it impossible to trace individual cows.

Official state documents seen by the Bureau, the Guardian and Repórter Brasil showed that from January to October 2018, Santa Barbara delivered at least 296 cattle from the Lagoa do Triunfo ranch to its Espiríto Santo ranch in Xinguara, in the same state. Between July 2018 and January this year, Santa Barbara sent 2,900 cattle from the Espiríto Santo ranch to JBS slaughterhouses.

Throughout 2018, Santa Barbara also sent at least 729 cattle from the Lagoa do Triunfo ranch to be fattened at its Porto Rico ranch in Xinguara. In April 2018, 36 cattle from the Porto Rico ranch were sent to slaughter at a JBS plant.

JBS said that 99.9% of its cattle purchases meet its socio-environmental criteria and that it was working to implement “a new procedure to cover all links in the supply chain” and stop the use of “cattle from illegally deforested areas”.

Santa Barbara said it did not carry out deforestation to increase its area “but rather recovers degraded areas” and turns them into pastures. It said that trees on the Lagoa do Triunfo ranch had been felled before the Forest Code was introduced and that only 7% of the land is under embargo.

New research tracking beef cattle back to the ranches they were raised on has revealed the full extent of deforestation in the Amazon that is linked to a handful of global food corporations.

Trase, a supply chain research project developed by the Stockholm Environment Institute and Global Canopy, tracked livestock from deforested areas to abattoirs producing beef for international markets, as well as meat for domestic use. Up to 5,800 square kilometres of forest is being felled in the Amazon and other areas every year for cattle ranching.

The destruction of between 280-320 sq km of forest each year is linked to JBS’s supply chain for exported beef, according to the data assembled by Trase. There is no suggestion any Lagoa do Triunfo beef is exported.

JBS, which slaughters almost 35,000 cattle in Brazil per day, has faced a string of allegations relating to deforestation. In 2017, Brazil’s environmental protection agency, Ibama, raided and ordered the suspension of two JBS meat-packing plants in Pará accused of having purchased cattle raised on illegally deforested land between 2013 and 2016.

JBS denied the allegations but was fined R$24.7 million ($8 million). In the same year, a Guardian investigation with Repórter Brasil revealed how the company had purchased cattle linked to poor labour conditions and deforestation, resulting in UK supermarket Waitrose removing the company’s products from its shelves.

The findings come amid growing international concern over the looming impacts of climate change, with the Amazon forest seen by experts as a crucial buffer in stabilising regional and global climate.

Between 1980 and 2005, Amazon deforestation levels reached 20,000 sq km per year — with an area the size of Wales being lost. Although there have been political murmurings about trying to halt the destruction, the latest data shows that deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon has risen by 73% since 2012.

Erasmus zu Ermgassen, lead researcher at Trase, said: “Though some slaughterhouses monitor their direct suppliers and so in theory can avoid farms associated with deforestation, none monitor their indirect suppliers, who make up the bulk of their supply chain.”

Trase added: “There is a huge opportunity to reduce the deforestation associated with the production and exports of beef in Brazil. There is enormous potential to use land more efficiently and sustainably in the Brazilian beef sector, and to improve rural livelihoods by investing in cattle ranching on existing pasturelands.”

Trase will release the data in full later this month.

Can methane burps be bred out of cows?

Measurements are taken of methane that comes out of grass-fed cows in Fermoy, County Cork, Ireland.


A study of more than 1,000 cows throughout Europe found that the microbes in their guts responsible for methane are inherited.

Underneath the lazy demeanor of a cow is a complex digestive system that transforms grass into the complex carbohydrates cows need to live. A byproduct of that digestion is methane—a lot of methaneone of the most potent greenhouse gases found on Earth.

Though methane stays in the atmosphere for less time than carbon, it’s highly effective at trapping heat. The EPA estimates around 25 percent of methane in the U.S. comes from cows.

Reducing those methane emissions is a major goal for environmentalists trying to mitigate the impacts of climate change, and new research indicates that they may be able to achieve that goal by altering the genetic makeup of common cows.

Some microbes inside cows more actively contribute to producing methane than others. A new study in the journal Science Advances shows that many methane-producing microbes are inherited, and by selectively breeding cows without those inherited traits, scientists think they’re one step closer to engineering a more environmentally friendly cow.

It’s a prospect that makes scientists hopeful. Meat and dairy consumption have been on the rise for the past decade, and many countries are scrambling to feed growing populations while simultaneously reducing emissions.


What 1,000 European cows can tell us

In 2012 the European Union commissioned a team of more than 30 scientists to research the relationship between livestock and methane emissions.

They called their research project Ruminomics—ruminants are a category of animals like cows, buffalo, yaks, and sheep. The rumen is the first of four compartments found in a ruminant’s stomach, where grass is partially digested via fermentation before passing through the rest. Ninety-five percent of the excess methane is expelled via their burps.

It’s in the rumen that the methane production process begins. Bacteria produce hydrogen as they begin fermenting carbohydrates, and single-celled organisms called archaea combine that hydrogen with carbon dioxide to produce methane.

You can think of it “like a triangle,” says study author John Wallace from the University of Aberdeen. “At the corners of the triangle you have three things: one is emissions, two is the rumen microbiome, and the third is the host animal’s genome. The aim of our study was to see how connected those were.”

They looked at Holstein cows on farms in the U.K. and Italy, as well as Nordic Red dairy cows in Sweden and Finland. Specialized tools were designed to collect samples by inserting a brass cylinder into a cow’s mouth and pulling fluid from the rumen where the scientists could see a pool of protozoa, fungi, bacteria, archaea, and DNA crucial to the experiment. Breath samples were also taken to measure how much methane cows were burping.



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Of each cow’s core microbes in the rumen, Wallace says their results identified which microbes were passed down from one generation to the next. Certain microbes like the succinovibrionaceae were common in cows that produced less methane.

Greener pastures for greener cows

“Our idea now is that since we know these organisms are heritable and interconnected, this can be a target for breeding animals with improved milk yields, lower emissions, or other properties that people might want,” says Wallace. “If we could inoculate young animals with a low-methane microbiome, we have every reason to believe that will persist throughout life, which will lead to animals producing much less methane.”

In a place like California where there’s a target to reduce methane emissions by 40 percent, low-methane cows “could be part of the solution,” says Ermias Kebreab from the University of California Davis.

Kebreab said he was excited by the study’s results, and that it’s a good first step toward work that will still take years to practically execute. His own work has centered on how diet affects the amount of methane produced by cows. Last year he found that adding methane to their feed significantly reduces the emission.

Both Kebreab and Wallace said a big hurdle will be convincing farmers to let their cows be bred for low-emission traits, since farmers tend to select for money-making traits like milk production and size, but lower emissions wouldn’t have any direct financial benefit. In regions without emissions reduction targets, Kebreab said farmers would need additional economic incentive.

Wallace says selective breeding of lower-methane cows has already begun, and there have yet to be noticeable negative side effects.

Meating In The Middle: The Challenge of Lowering Greenhouse Gas Emissions On Farms

Originally published on May 20, 2019 7:33 am

Cow guts are quite the factory. Grass goes in, microbes help break it down and make hydrogen, then other microbes start converting it to another gas. In the end, you get methane, manure and meat.

One of those things is not like the other. Methane emissions are considered the second-worst greenhouse gas after carbon dioxide, according to Stanford University professor Rob Jackson.

Agriculture is the leading producer of methane emissions in the U.S., with animal digestion producing almost as much as oil and gas operations. So, one way to reduce that is to just stop eating beef, right? That’s what researchers near and far believe, including Paul West at the University of Minnesota.

“As an individual, one of the biggest effects that we can have [to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture] is changing what we’re eating to eating a smaller amount of beef,” said West, who is co-director and lead scientist of the Global Landscapes Initiative, which aims to balance future food needs with ag sustainability.

However, West and Jackson also advocate for sustainable agriculture systems to mitigate climate change. Just don’t go getting rid of all those gassy ruminants. They’re likely a key part.

Various seedlings sprouted by the dozens in early May on PrairiErth Farm near Atlanta, Illinois.

Beefing up on sustainability

Molly is not one to be left behind.

The old Great Pyrenees followed Dave Bishop’s Gator as he drove around his 350-acre operation called PrairiErth Farm. Here, Oreo cows coexist with all kinds of crops and vegetables either coming up in the fields or in hoop houses. And the friendly relationship between his two chickens and the cat? “It’s just not right!” he said, smiling and chuckling.

Dave Bishop stands in one of his hoop houses, which was heating up in the sunshine.

In the mid-20th century, U.S. farms used to look a lot more like Bishop’s, but many were sold or consolidated as farmers looked to economies of scale to stay afloat.

Bishop bought this land in central Illinois as the ’80s farm crisis set in. But it was the 1988 drought that forced him to change his farm’s makeup.

“Everything burned up in the field and it became pretty apparent that we had to do something differently then,” he said. “So we just began looking for things to reduce costs. If I have livestock, I can generate some more fertility. If I have more than just corn and soybeans to sell, I have more diverse marketing opportunities.”

He’s turned to regenerative agriculture, which means creating a sustainable farming operation that isn’t too hard on the landscape and involves everything from cover crops to diverse crop rotations to drainage water management.

Climate change is a real concern of his, as is staying economically sound. That’s why he says any regenerative farm system needs to integrate animals and shift toward diversity in plants and livestock.

West also mentioned the need for crop diversity, saying that large-scale corn production is an issue in the Midwest — and not because farmers are seeing low prices on the billions of bushels grown each year.

“Even though we grow [corn] much more efficiently than a number of places around the world, because corn is a crop that is requiring a tremendous amount of fertilizer …it still affects our climate a lot,” he said.

Dave Bishop only has a few chickens, which roam about near the house and have a friendship with the cat.

Remember the cow methane? Agriculture generates two other problematic greenhouse gases: carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide. The latter is boosted by excess nitrogen fertilizer applications, and is about 300 times more potent than carbon emissions (though it doesn’t last as long in the atmosphere as carbon or methane emissions).

The future of agriculture

Researchers are making inroads to reducing the amount of methane individual cows produce, feeding them seaweed or other kinds of supplements. Some are even looking to breed cows that naturally make less methane.

However, the animal’s gut microbes that produce methane also help the animal — cut out too many, and that could be toxic. Because of that, Jackson said, “there is no way, that I can see, where we reduce methane emissions completely.”

There are also some perennial crops on the horizon, like wheat and miscanthus (a grass that could be grown for biofuel), that can sequester more carbon because the root-dense soil won’t need to be disturbed to replant every year. Those will likely take years to be adopted by the agriculture sector, though.

In the meantime, Colorado State University professor Keith Paustian said we know enough to start making a dent in ag emissions.

He helped create some of the first methods to calculate greenhouse gas emissions from country to country. He also helped create the COMET-farm tool, which allows farmers to calculate their own greenhouse gas emissions and recommends ways to reduce them.

While the prospect of land use changes could help farms sequester more carbon emissions than they put off, he said that’s not the only solution for climate change or even reducing agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Brussels sprout starter plants sit in the sunshine at PrairiErth Farm. Exposing them to wind outside encourages them to grow stronger root systems, according to farmer Dave Bishop.

Bishop at PrairiErth Farm said vilifying cows won’t help when it comes to finding more sustainable agriculture operations, which he said will need both plants and animals. Researchers need to listen to farmers, he said, and farmers need to listen to researchers, too.

Because at the end of the day, he said, it’s about making sure there’s food for the future, “so we’ve got to get this right.”

This story is part of a multi-newsroom collaborative project called “Middle America’s Low-Hanging Carbon: The Search for Greenhouse Gas Cuts from the Grid, Agriculture and Transportation.” The effort, led by nonprofit news organization InsideClimate News, includes 14 newsrooms in the Midwest, and aims to give readers local and regional perspectives on climate change. For more, go to the project page.

Follow Madelyn on Twitter @MadelynBeck8

Sharp rise in methane levels threatens world climate targets

Livestock are a leading source of the rise in methane levels.
 Livestock are a leading source of the rise in methane levels. Photograph: Alamy

Dramatic rises in atmospheric methane are threatening to derail plans to hold global temperature rises to 2C, scientists have warned.

In a paper published this month by the American Geophysical Union, researchers say sharp rises in levels of methane – which is a powerful greenhouse gas – have strengthened over the past four years. Urgent action is now required to halt further increases in methane in the atmosphere, to avoid triggering enhanced global warming and temperature rises well beyond 2C.

“What we are now witnessing is extremely worrying,” said one of the paper’s lead authors, Professor Euan Nisbet of Royal Holloway, University of London. “It is particularly alarming because we are still not sure why atmospheric methane levels are rising across the planet.”

Methane is produced by cattle, and also comes from decaying vegetation, fires, coal mines and natural gas plants. It is many times more potent as a cause of atmospheric warming than carbon dioxide (CO2). However, it breaks down much more quickly than CO2 and is found at much lower levels in the atmosphere.

During much of the 20th century, levels of methane, mostly from fossil fuel sources, increased in the atmosphere but, by the beginning of the 21st century, it had stabilised, said Nisbet. “Then, to our surprise, levels starting rising in 2007. That increase began to accelerate after 2014 and fast growth has continued.”

Studies suggest these increases are more likely to be mainly biological in origin. However, the exact cause remains unclear. Some researchers believe the spread of intense farming in Africa may be involved, in particular in tropical regions where conditions are becoming warmer and wetter because of climate change. Rising numbers of cattle – as well as wetter and warmer swamps – are producing more and more methane, it is argued.

This idea is now being studied in detail by a consortium led by Nisbet, whose work is funded by the Natural Environment Research Council. This month the consortium completed a series of flights over Uganda and Zambia to collect samples of the air above these countries.

“We have only just started analysing our data but have already found evidence that a great plume of methane now rises above the wetland swamps of Lake Bangweul in Zambia,” added Nisbet.

However, other scientists warn that there could be a more sinister factor at work. Natural chemicals in the atmosphere – which help to break down methane – may be changing because of temperature rises, causing it to lose its ability to deal with the gas.

Our world could therefore be losing its power to cleanse pollutants because it is heating up, a climate feedback in which warming allows more greenhouse gases to linger in the atmosphere and so trigger even more warming.

In 2016, in Paris, nations agreed to cooperate to hold global temperature rises to 2C above preindustrial levels and, if possible, to keep that rise to under 1.5C. It was recognised that achieving this goal – mainly by curbing emissions of CO2 from fossil fuels – would always be difficult to achieve. Accelerating increases in a different greenhouse gas, methane, means that this task is going to be much, much harder.

This point was backed by Martin Manning of Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand. “Methane is the gas … that keeps us to a 2C rise in global temperatures. And even more significantly, we do not really know why.”

If nothing can be done about this, he added, then even more cuts will have to be made in CO2 emissions. Continued increases in methane levels will only make this situation worse, he said.

This point was backed by Nisbet. “It was assumed, at the time of the Paris, agreement, that reducing the amount of methane in the atmosphere would be relatively easy and that the hard work would involve cutting CO2emissions.

“However, that does not look so simple any more. We don’t know exactly what is happening.

“Perhaps emissions are growing or perhaps the problem is due to the fact that our atmosphere is losing its ability to break down methane.

“Either way we are facing a very worrying problem. That is why it is so important that we unravel what is going on – as soon as possible.”

1 wild boar killed, 6 still at large in Yukon

CBC News · Posted: Jul 17, 2018 7:00 AM CT | Last Updated: July 17


Seven wild boars escaped from a farm in the Mendenhall subdivision area, west of Whitehorse, last month. Since then, they’ve been spotted on peoples’ properties and alongside the highway. The territorial government says one of the animals has now been killed, but the rest are still loose. (Jody Peters)

The owner of seven wild boars that escaped last month west of Whitehorse has managed to find and kill one of the animals, according to the Yukon government. But the other six are still running free.

And according to a University of Saskatchewan researcher who’s studied wild boars, that’s bad news.

“If you think what you’re doing is important today, you’re wrong. Stop what you’re doing… get out there and find every one of [the boars] and remove them,” said associate professor Ryan Brook.

He said any boar that is shot at, but not killed, becomes “wild very, very quickly.

The animals, all female, escaped from a farm in the Mendenhall subdivision area sometime last month.

Local residents have been alarmed to see the beasts occasionally wander onto their rural properties, but the animals have proven hard to catch.


Tannis Thompson-Preete took this photo a couple of weeks ago, when she spotted the animals near the Alaska Highway. The government has since told the animals’ owner to remove them from the wild or face fines. (Tannis Thompson-Preete)

Last week, government agriculture officials admitted the pigs had so far outsmarted them, so they gave the owner an ultimatum: remove your animals from the wild or face fines.

The deadline passed last Wednesday, but government officials won’t say how the farmer’s being penalized.

“Since this is an ongoing enforcement issue, we are not able to provide further information on the details surrounding the timeline, and amount of fines,” said Jesse Devost, a spokesperson for the Department of Energy, Mines and Resources, in an email to CBC.

‘They will eat almost anything’

According to Brook, wild boars are an invasive species and they’ve wreaked havoc in many places across the country, including Saskatchewan.


‘They really do a lot of damage to almost any landscape, but especially wetlands get really torn apart,’ says Ryan Brook, a wild boar researcher at the University of Saskatchewan. (Tannis Thompson-Preete)

He said they can damage landscapes and ecosystems, and threaten local agriculture, because they root up vegetation and “they will eat almost anything.”

“They really do a lot of damage to almost any landscape, but especially wetlands get really torn apart,” Brook said.

“These wild pigs, they’re just a major global threat. Not just Canada, or not just local here — it is a global issue.”

Brook said it’s also possible the animals could spread disease to livestock, wild species, and possibly even people, although he said that’s not a major concern in Canada right now.

“That’s mainly because we haven’t looked,” he said.

Risk of reproducing low, gov’t says

Brook said it’s key to eradicate the animals from the wild as soon as possible, especially if there’s any risk that they might reproduce.

“These animals are continuously breeding non-stop and producing litters of six all along the way. And those young can become sexually mature at about five to six months. So, you do the math,” he said.

The Yukon government has said the risk of the animals breeding in the wild is low, since the escapees are all female and there are no other known wild pigs in Yukon for them to mate with.


A submitted shot of a wild boar. The Yukon government has said the risk of the animals breeding in the wild is low, since the escapees are all female and there are no other known wild pigs in Yukon for them to mate with. (Brian Keating)

The animals can breed with domestic pigs, so other pig farmers in the area have been advised to “be diligent in monitoring their animals and containment structures while these wild boar are in the area,” Devost wrote.

Brook said that’s all good news, but it doesn’t lessen his concern.

“Even a couple can do a lot of damage,” he said.

They’re also just plain dangerous when they’re running wild, Brook said. He advises any Yukoner who sees the animals to beat a retreat.

“Approaching these animals — I wouldn’t recommend it,” he said. “If you see them out on the ground, I would definitely get back in the house and close the door.”

“When we have a ground crew here, when people are going to shoot at pigs, we also have people with shotguns to protect the shooters themselves because [the boars] will charge.”

He also said that the longer the animals run loose, the more elusive — and dangerous — they’ll be.

“Time is everything with these things,” he said.

Meat glut in U.S. a fear in trade war

By Nathan Owens

This article was published today at 4:30 a.m.


Arkansas farmers, ranchers and producers have been hedging their bets and bracing for the fallout from a potential U.S. trade war with China.

After the decision by President Donald Trump’s administration to impose tariffs on imported steel and aluminum products, the U.S. singled out China with plans to impose duties on $34 billion in Chinese imports. Chinese trade officials have said they are prepared to impose an extra 25 percent tariff on 500 U.S. products, including beef, pork and soybeans.

Travis Justice, chief economist of the Arkansas Farm Bureau, said he fears the tariffs could lead to a domestic meat glut. When production surpasses demand because of higher prices — an oversupply is common, Justice said.

“Because of the huge reliance on China, it’s going to make feed costs lower, which will be supportive of raising more beef,” Justice said. “I see a meat glut coming in response to this.”

While slipping beef and pork prices are a concern to Arkansas, Justice said “the biggest impact is on the row-crop and soybean side. Roughly half of those imports or more go into China.”

Soybeans account for more planted acreage in the state than rice, corn and wheat combined, according to the Arkansas Farm Bureau. Arkansas ranks 10th in the nation in soybean production, and China is the largest buyer of U.S. soybeans.

[FULL LIST: Chinese products that will be subject to additional tariffs + more products under review]

Arkansas-raised meats, by comparison, do not rely as heavily on China’s market. Citing data from the International Trade Administration, the Arkansas World Trade Center said almost half of the state’s exports go to Western Hemisphere nations. The bulk of Arkansas-raised meat — $2.1 billion — goes to Canada or Mexico, data show. Agriculture accounts for 43 percent of the state’s exports to Mexico (27 percent) and Canada (16 percent), followed by Haiti (10 percent) and Hong Kong (6 percent).

China is the third-largest buyer of U.S. pork, but the Arkansas’ hog production is not what it used to be. Cash receipts attributable to hogs fell from $100 million in 2007, to just under $57 million in 2016, according to the Arkansas Farm Bureau.

U.S. chicken products were also placed on China’s tariff list, but U.S. chicken products have been banned from import in China because of a bird-flu scare three years ago. According to the National Chicken Council, the ban is still in effect.

Meanwhile, consolidated food companies, such as Tyson Foods — with beef, pork and poultry operations across the nation — fear the loss of their competitive edge because of the ongoing trade dispute.

“With the current volatility in trade relations, we’ve experienced day-to-day uncertainty in our ability to deliver products and services to customers,” a Tyson spokesman said in an email. “With countries imposing retaliatory tariffs on U.S. products, Tyson Foods as well as others in U.S. food and agriculture, will lose our competitive advantage in critical export markets like Mexico, Canada and China.”

A sliver of the total beef raised in Arkansas goes to China. U.S. beef accounts for 1 percent of China’s imports after regaining access last summer, when a 14-year ban that stemmed from a mad-cow disease scare was lifted, according to the U.S. Meat Export Federation.

Justice did not have state-specific numbers for Arkansas beef exports, because most of the cattle raised in Arkansas is processed elsewhere.

According to the Arkansas Farm Bureau, Arkansas-raised cattle account for 14 percent of the total value of U.S. beef exports. These include exports to the state’s largest trading partners: Mexico and Canada. The latter enacted additional tariffs on U.S. beef at the beginning of July.

Dan Wright, a member of the U.S. Meat Export Federation, said he’s been involved in the beef industry for 45 years. Wright, 57, raises poultry and produces hay on his farm in Waldron.

“I don’t see anything happening until some of this stuff can be hashed out,” Wright said. “What’s really going to affect our prices is the NAFTA deal.”

According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, $339 million of exports from Arkansas are threatened by the trade war. A recent study, which compared each state’s top three annual exports, shows that cotton ($12 million), aluminum scraps ($2.8 million) and bone-in, fresh or chilled bovine ($211,000), are the top Arkansas exports targeted for retaliatory tariffs by China.

Justice said he expects to see the fallout from a trade war later this year, when calving season starts and soybean farmers harvest their crops. He has seen prices for beef, pork and soy dip lower with each updated forecast.

“The ramifications come in the prices,” Justice said.

Business on 07/06/2018

Washington rancher shot wolf thinking it may be dog

A recently released report describes Washington’s second case of a rancher lawfully shooting a wolf attacking cattle

Don JenkinsCapital Press

A Washington rancher who killed a wolf in October told investigators that he thought he might have been shooting a dog, according to a Department of Fish and Wildlife report.

The rancher found the carcass, realized it was a wolf and called authorities. WDFW investigators concluded the shooting was justified because the wolf, an adult female, was chasing a calf.

The shooting, Oct. 27 near the Canadian border in Ferry County, was Washington’s second case of a rancher lawfully killing a wolf under the state’s “caught-in-the-act” law.

WDFW released a redacted copy of the investigative report in response to a public records request from the Capital Press. The name of the ranchers, a man and woman, were withheld by the department and were referred to in the report as “Producer M” and “Producer F.”

The shooting was not an isolated event in northern Ferry County as ranchers moved cattle from public grazing grounds to private pastures in the fall. Within two weeks of the shooting, at least two other calves were attacked by wolves fewer than 3 miles away.

The shooting and depredations occurred outside the range of any documented pack, according to WDFW. Ferry County rancher Arron Scotten, whose cattle were not involved in the incidents, said there had been signs of wolves in the area that fall.

“I think it was all one group that was there,” said Scotten, who was contracted by WDFW as a range rider to look for wolves and patrol around cattle.

“You ended up with (pack) members right there and cattle right there,” he said. “I’m not sure what really could have been done differently.”

The shooting occurred in the late afternoon as the man and woman were hauling cattle from a grazing allotment to a large fenced pasture. The woman told an investigator that she saw what she thought was a bear chasing a calf in the pasture.

Since she had a tag to harvest a bear, the woman aimed a rifle, looked through the scope, saw it wasn’t a bear and handed the gun to the man, who saw a dark-colored canine and shot, according to the report.

The animal went down, got up, veered from the calf and tumbled downhill. “Producer M said they had been seeing a large black/brown domestic dog running loose in the area recently, and they thought it might have been that dog as it looked similar to it from their location,” the WDFW report states.

The ranchers did not find any dead or injured cattle. The cattle were bunched near the pasture’s entrance. WDFW investigators said the wolf was shot once and that the evidence at the scene matched the ranchers’ description of events.

A separate livestock producer in the area reported an injured calf Nov. 2. Another calf was found dead Nov. 8. Scotten said range-rider patrols, particularly at night, were increased.

WDFW also ruled that a ranch employee was justified in shooting a wolf June 30 in Stevens County.

Washington law allows shooting one wolf attacking livestock. The law applies in the eastern one-third of Washington, where wolves are not federally protected. Under state law, illegally shooting a wolf is a gross misdemeanor and punishable by up to one year in jail and a $5,000 fine.

Ranchers brace for ‘astronomical losses’ due to B.C. wildfires

Cattle ranchers in B.C. are bracing for massive damages to their land and
livestock as wildfires continue to rage across the Interior.

Kevin Boon, the general manager for the B.C. Cattlemen’s Association,
visited two areas this week in the ravaged Cariboo region.

“We know there’s going to be some astronomical losses,” Boon said.

It’s still too early to peg the total cost of damages – a question Boon says
he has been fielding from many ranchers – but the expenses are quickly
adding up.

“There’s hundreds of miles of fence out there that have been burnt up,” he

“That’s all a huge cost when you stop and figure it costs somewhere in the
neighbourhood of $15,000 to $20,000 a kilometre of fence to replace.”

Costs will also be incurred in destroyed grass and hay, he said.

Volatile conditions

The B.C. Cattlemen’s Association has been liaising with RCMP to get ranchers
access through checkpoints so they can transport or tend to their livestock.

Boon is also calling on the province to keep tourists and recreational users
out of the backcountry because of the volatile conditions. Even ranchers are
restricting use on their own lands, he said.

“We’re recommending our guys take their horse shoes off their horses just so
they don’t create a spark of the shoe on the walk,” Boon said.

Boon estimates there are about 30,000 head of cattle in the wildfire
regions. Death tolls won’t be as high as ranchers anticipated, but he
expects it will affect the calf population next spring.

“A lot of these cattle are in their breeding season right now,” he said.
“They might be miscarrying those calves and aborting them naturally because
of the stress.”

Greg Nyman, a rancher who lives south of Clinton, B.C., has so far found 60
of his 120 cattle. They’re in varying degrees of health, he said.

“I saw quite a few that have burned feet,” he said. “They’ve been in a
burning fire for a week and heavy smoke for close to a month now.”

“More often than not, their lungs are scorched,” he added. “So they’re no
longer productive.”

Wonkblog Trump, China reach preliminary trade agreements on beef, poultry

May 12 at 7:48 AM

The Trump administration has reached new deals with China to ease market access for a variety of industries, including beef and financial services, as the White House makes progress on trying to soften economic barriers between the two sides.

The 10-part agreement, announced by Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, comes as part of an ongoing negotiation between the two countries following a meeting between President Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping last month.

“We have some very big news,” Ross told reporters Thursday. “U.S.-China relationships are now hitting a new high, especially in trade. We’re announcing, jointly with the Chinese, the initial results of the 100-day action plan of the U.S.-China Comprehensive Economic Dialogue.”

But experts were less impressed.

“China has made a few modest concessions that cost it very little, in areas strategically picked to maximize the political benefit to Trump,” said Arthur Kroeber, managing director of Gavekal Dragonomics, an economic research firm in Beijing. “But the substantive impact on US-China trade and investment flows is pretty minimal.”

Still, in a week of chaotic news from the Trump administration, White House officials pitched the agreement as a major breakthrough.

China just agreed that the U.S. will be allowed to sell beef, and other major products, into China once again. This is REAL news!

The new arrangements include an agreement from China to allow imports of U.S. beef, on certain conditions, by July 16. The United States has pressured China for years to allow beef imports, but the process has been constantly delayed.

“It’s at least a $2.5 billion market that’s being opened up for U.S. beef,” Ross said.

The beef industry praised the agreement.

“It’s impossible to overstate how beneficial this will be for America’s cattle producers, and the Trump Administration deserves a lot of credit for getting this achieved,” National Cattlemen’s Beef Association President Craig Uden said.

Similarly, Washington has agreed to advance a new rule that would allow China to export cooked poultry to the United States. The impact of this change on the U.S. poultry industry is uncertain, but Ross said it would not be severe.

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And there were numerous other parts of the preliminary agreement. This included language that appears to pave the way for U.S. firms to export liquid natural gas to China, the expediting of Chinese safety reviews for U.S. biotechnology applications, and cooperation between Chinese and U.S. regulators over financial transactions.

Other parts of the arrangement would direct China to issue bond underwriting and settlement licenses to “two qualified U.S. financial institutions” by July 17, a date that is significant because it comes 100 days after Trump and Xi met in Florida. And the United States has agreed to allow Chinese entrepreneurs to a Washington summit in June.

Trump spent months on the campaign trail berating China for its trade practices, but he has softened his approach since winning office. He has initiated reviews of China’s support of its steel and aluminum industries and its impact on U.S. trade, but the outcome of those reviews is unclear. He has shown a willingness to back away from trade-related threats after consulting with aides and foreign leaders, and he has recently heaped praise on Xi and what he perceives as China’s willingness to negotiate.

Christopher Balding, an associate professor at the HSBC Business School in Shenzhen in China, said Trump had created leverage with his “undiplomatic statements” on the campaign trail.

“However, the importance of this deals shouldn’t be overstated,” he added. “These are largely long standing issues that China was either legally obligated to address or had every reason in its own incentives to address.

Nevertheless, Balding said the agreement could provide the basis for further cooperation and market opening agreements for American firms in China.

At a news conference in Beijing, China’s Vice Commerce Minister Yu Jianhua said the trade deficit between the two countries had been “overestimated” and was not a priority during this round of talks.

But he added China was open-minded about discussing it in further rounds, calling the U.S. government’s attitude “positive and pragmatic.”

“The wisdom and ability of the two countries to control differences and properly handle bilateral relations is beyond the imagination of many people,” Yu said.

In Washington, Ross said this announcement covered 10 items, but was a step in the right direction.

“As you can appreciate, this addresses 10 items,” Ross said of the initial agreements. “There are probably 500 items that you could potentially discuss; maybe more than 500.” Ross said they would continue working and then “see if we can reach agreement” on other matters.