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Board of Animal Health could be restructured after CWD criticism

The board overseeing Minnesota's livestock- and domestic animal-health agency, which has been criticized for lax oversight of deer and elk farms — the main known source of chronic wasting disease in the state — could be restructured.

Sponsored by Rep. Rick Hansen (DFL-South St. Paul), HF1137 would expand the Board of Animal Health, which oversees its namesake agency, to nine members instead of the current five.

Two members would be at-large members and seven would be from congressional districts. Hansen said he assumes Minnesota will have seven congressional districts instead of eight after U.S. Census data is released and redistricting occurs.

Board members would need to be knowledgeable in animal agriculture, animal health or pets and companion animals. Two would be considered public representatives and could not be employed in a related field.

Members would still be appointed by the governor but would no longer need Senate confirmation. The governor would also be responsible for appointing the agency's executive director.

The bill, as amended, on Monday was laid over by the House Agriculture Finance and Policy Committee for possible omnibus bill inclusion. Its companion, SF1162, is sponsored by Sen. D. Scott Dibble (DFL-Mpls), and awaits action by the Senate Agriculture and Rural Development Finance and Policy Committee.

The Board of Animal Health's tasks include licensing and inspecting commercial dog and cat breeders and ensuring the health of livestock and other domesticated animals.

A 2018 Office of the Legislative Auditor report found the agency failed to enforce some deer- and elk-farm regulations.

Deer and elk farms have seen more cases of chronic wasting disease, which is always fatal to deer and lingers in the environment, than native herds.

The report urged the Legislature to consider expanding the board and adding at least one member of the public. Under the existing structure, three board members are livestock producers, and two are practicing veterinarians.

Hansen said requiring members of state-appointed boards to come from specific fields can lead to those agencies working for regulated clients rather than the public.

The president of the Minnesota Deer Farmers Association, and committee Republicans say the existing board structure works well. They also worry about the board's executive director potentially being removed by governors for political reasons and want explicit assurance that the board will include a practicing veterinarian.

Rep. Paul Anderson (R-Starbuck) said it seems like the bill aims to make a change for change's sake.

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