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Miller announces another spray box compromise

September 28, 2018

After a 45-day deadline between the Texas Department of Agriculture and the Cattle Fever Tick Eradication Program over the use of spray boxes to apply a powerful pesticide to cows ended Monday, Commissioner Sid Miller announced a new agreement.

Now, cattle raisers who are subject to a Cattle Fever Tick Eradication Program quarantine in the Rio Grande Valley will be able to hand-spray cattle instead of using a spray box to apply the pesticide after complaints that the boxes were not ventilated, leading to the alleged deaths of cattle at the hands of the United States Department of Agriculture-Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, or USDA-APHIS, which jointly operates the program with the Texas Animal Health Commission.

Miller said in a press release that the agreement is the result of a recent meeting in Washington, D.C., with USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue and Under Secretary Greg Ibach.

“ I want to thank Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and under Secretary Ibach for our discussions in D.C., and I look forward to working with them to find a more permanent solution to this issue,” Miller said in a press release. “Their agreement to allow Texas producers the option to hand-spray gives them the ability to manage their livestock as they see fit while still ensuring we maintain the fight against any tick outbreaks.”

Nearly two months ago, Miller drew the ire of the Texas Cattle Raiser Association by ordering the Cattle Fever Tick Eradication Program to stop using spray boxes to administer a powerful pesticide used to kill off ticks in the Rio Grande Valley that could carry a disease that could devastate the state’s cattle industry.

Just two weeks later, after pressure from Texas cattle industry representatives, members of the Texas Animal Health Commission, the USDA-APHIS, and the Environmental Protection Agency, Miller announced a short-term compromise allowing ranchers to exempt some cattle from spray boxes.

That compromise was in effect for a 45-day period, which ended Monday.

The Texas Department of Agriculture also announced that it has published a new spray box rule and is seeking input from ranchers and industry representatives.

That new rule requires that the pesticide, Co-Ral, must be applied in a ventilated area, which would bring Texas’ regulation in line with the EPA-approved label, which requires Co-Ral application in ventilated areas.

The public comment period is open until Nov. 30, and Miller anticipates comments being reviewed in December with no changes in the rule until next year, according to a press release.

“ I am allowing the Cattle Fever Tick spray boxes to continue operations while we continue to work on a long term solution,” Miller said in a press release. “I am hopeful that comments from producers will continue to shed light on the use of these boxes and provide valuable guidance.”

Questions over the safety of spray boxes first appeared in litigation filed by Cameron County rancher Danny Davis in 2015. That lawsuit was dismissed, but in 2017, Davis again sued, as did three other Cameron County ranchers, Luis Ramirez, Juan Delgadillo and Santiago Ramirez, who in three lawsuits alleged the death of more than 100 cattle since 2014 due to the misapplication of Co-Ral.

There are numerous allegations against the USDA-APHIS in the litigation, including that Co-Ral applied to cattle in spray boxes killed the animals because the spray boxes are not ventilated, causing the animals to ingest the pesticide. While the USDA-APHIS has pushed back that spray boxes are ventilated, two of its own employees testified during those lawsuits that they did not believe the spray boxes were ventilated.

Earlier this month, U.S. Magistrate Judge Ronald Morgan recommended dismissing the lawsuits.

Davis has filed objections to Morgan’s report and recommendations.

U.S. District Judge Rolando Olvera will make the final ruling.

If it’s not in his favor, Davis has indicated that he will appeal.

mreagan@brownsvilleherald.com

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