Oil spill causes concern for cattle along the coast

Bruce Schultz  |  1/4/2011 1:09:59 AM

News Release Distributed 07/09/10

Oil from the BP disaster in the Gulf of Mexico is causing concern among cattle owners who graze their herds on coastal marshes.

The fear is that severe weather or high tides could push the oil inland.

“They are worried in case of a hurricane the oil could be pushed up into the canals. Then we’ve got cattle drinking from those canals,” said Andrew Granger, LSU AgCenter county agent in Vermilion Parish. “I got two calls about it this morning.”

Dr. Mike Strain, commissioner of the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry, issued an advisory to cattle owners along the coast to protect their herds from the oil spill if it is moved inland by bad weather.

“Be advised that producer losses due to oil contamination are considered to be caused by a man-made disaster and may not be covered by traditional indemnity programs,” Strain said.

He said the Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) has indicated that cattle grazing on pastures that have been contaminated by oil will be prevented from going to slaughter.

“The animals cannot be shipped to plants for slaughter if the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry has credible information that cattle have grazed on oil-contaminated pasture,” Strain said in a press release from his office.

Dr. Christine Navarre, LSU AgCenter extension veterinarian, said the FSIS is doing a risk assessment report on the consumption of meat from animals exposed to crude oil, and that report should be available by the middle of this month.

“They’re looking at whether animals exposed to oil could go into the food chain later, and what the safety risks would be in the food supply,” Navarre said.

Many cattle owners in Vermilion Parish have just gotten their herds rebuilt after dealing with a trio of hurricanes in recent years, Granger said. He estimated that 8,000 to 10,000 head of cattle are grazing on Vermilion Parish marsh.

Producers are considering relocation of those herds to pasture further inland, instead of waiting for tropical weather.

“We’re not moving them yet but there’s an impetus to get it done,” Granger said. “We evacuated most of the cattle for Ike and Gustav.”

No tar balls have been found in Vermilion Parish so far that have been definitively linked to the BP spill, he said, although a small amount of oil was found near Cheniere Au Tigre.

Two Gulf of Mexico tropical weather systems have already served as a warning. Hurricane Alex hit Mexico near the U.S. border. A tropical depression formed in the lower Gulf Wednesday night and then struck Padre Island midday Thursday.

Cattle also graze along the coastline in Cameron Parish, from Rutherford Beach to Johnson’s Bayou.

To the east end of the state in Plaquemines Parish, James Vaughn, LSU AgCenter county agent, said cattle owners have an eye on the weather. He estimated 1,500 head potentially in harm’s way, grazing outside the levee system.

“We’ve got a major problem because there’s no place to store them, and there’s no fresh water,” Vaughn said.

So owners are simply waiting, he said.

In Lafourche Parish, LSU AgCenter County Agent Mike Hebert said cattle there could be a problem if a major weather system hits the coast.

“If a hurricane comes in and pushes water into the canals, then we could be seriously affected,” Hebert said. “Exceptionally high tides or a hurricane could be a problem.”

And Hebert said grass contaminated with oil would put the affected land off-limits to grazing for an unknown span of time.

“Our cattle producers are aware that precautions have to be taken,” he said.

Bennett Joffrion, LSU AgCenter county agent in Terrebonne Parish, said roughly 1,200 head are on vulnerable land along the coast. He said cattle owners haven’t started moving their herds yet that are as close as five miles from the coast.

“They are monitoring it and watching it,” Joffrion said.

Bruce Schultz
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