Controversy in Texas Over Cattle Fever Tick Spray Box Shut Down

A decision by Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller to halt the operation of spray boxes utilized to prevent to the spread of Cattle Fever Ticks is getting pushback from other government officials and cattlemen. ( Texas Animal Health Commission )

Government organizations and a cattlemen’s group aren’t seeing eye-to-eye on the recent shut down of Cattle Fever Tick spray box operations.

Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller announced a halt in operations on July 30 for 15 spray boxes used to spray insecticide on cattle in South Texas to help combat the spread of Cattle Fever Ticks. The spray boxes utilize the insecticide Co-Ral (also known as Coumaphos), but the insecticide is used at seven times the recommended agriculture levels to kill the infectious ticks.

According to the release from the Texas Department of Agriculture (TDA) there is a lack of ventilation in the confined spray boxes which is a violation of federally-approved label requirements for the insecticide. TDA and Miller also claim that licensed applicators were not present at the inspection, as required by state and federal law.

“Ranchers had complained to me about their cattle dying from these spray boxes, so I went to South Texas to check it out,” says Miller. “From my personal observation, the insecticide was being used in violation of the label so I shut them down. I also gave the state and federal authorities lawful alternatives for applying this insecticide, but they refused to implement those alternatives.”

Following the announcement by Miller and TDA about the shutdown there was pushback from the Texas Animal Health Commission (TAHC) and Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association (TSCRA).

Officials with TAHC claim that spray boxes are valuable asset in the fight against Cattle Fever Ticks, a pest that carries the deadly disease bovine babesiosis. The disease causes the destruction of the red blood cells resulting in cattle anemia, fever and death.

Trained staff from TAHC and USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service help administer inspection and application of insecticides through the spray boxes.

“Portable spray boxes have been utilized for decades and have proven very effective in our containment and eradication efforts,” says Andy Schwartz, Texas State Veterinarian and TAHC Executive Director. “It is important to note that over the years of state and federal use, there has been no indication the application of Coumaphos in spray boxes has led to cattle deaths.”

Research has showed that dipping or spraying cattle for fever ticks is an effective way to stop their spread. A Texas A&M University study found that the spread of small fever tick outbreak outside of the quarantine zone in Texas would result in $123 million economic loss in the first year. Should the ticks spread to their historic range it could result in a minimum cost of $1.2 billion in the first year.

TSCRA supports the scientific findings of TAHC and USDA APHIS who have been working to prevent the spread of Cattle Fever Ticks.

“The use of spray boxes has long been widely accepted as a safe and effective method to treat cattle for cattle fever ticks. According to TAHC and USDA-APHIS, the spray boxes they utilize are not known to have caused any cattle deaths due to toxicity, nor has TSCRA received reports of any such deaths. Commissioner Miller’s decision is detrimental to the health of the cattle and livelihood of ranchers who rely on the use of spray boxes to eradicate cattle fever ticks,” says Robert McKnight, Jr., president of TSCRA.

The spray boxes have helped trace fever tick exposed cattle to 919 individual premises in 82 Texas counties since September 1, 2016.

Despite the findings and opinions of other government agencies Commissioner Miller believes that the spray boxes have resulted in deaths of cattle.

“Everybody agrees we need to fight Cattle Fever Ticks with everything we’ve got,” Miller says. “But here in Texas we’re going to do it according to the law in a way that doesn’t kill cattle. The goal of the program is to protect cattle not kill them. Our Texas ranchers had a concern about it and I listened and took action. I will ensure that other state and federal agencies do what they need to do to address this problem.”

Organizations like TSCRA hope that Miller will reverse his decision as the spray boxes have proven to be effective in preventing the spread of disease causing ticks.

“We are very disappointed that Commissioner Miller made such a rash decision to take away this vital tool from Texas cattle raisers. His decision has a direct and immediate impact on cattle health, Texas ranchers and the entire U.S. cattle industry. His action could seriously endanger cattle welfare and prevent Texas ranchers from participating in commerce at a time when our industry is already facing hardships due to drought and other issues,” McKnight says.

Currently, there are nine South Texas counties with fever tick quarantines. The counties include Cameron, Live Oak, Hidalgo, Kinney, Maverick, Starr, Webb, Willacy and Zapata.

A map showing the fever tick zone can be seen below:

Tick Map