ARCBA withdraws support for national BJD program

James Nason, 19/09/2014

Support for the national Bovine Johne’s Disease control program has taken a hit with a decision by the Australian Registered Cattle Breeder’s Association to withdraw support for the program.

cattle generic 2ARCBA is the peak industry body for the Australian beef cattle seedstock industry and currently represents 40 breed associations and just over 8000 individual stud members.

ARCBA had been a supporter of the National BJD Strategic plan and control program since its introduction in 1999.

However, in recent years its support has waned in the face of a high impact and high cost control effort in Queensland, a lack of financial assistance for affected producers, and what it terms as ‘unconvincing evidence’ that BJD poses a serious threat to herd productivity or export market access.

At its AGM last year ARCBA changed its policy on BJD to state that it would only support the national program if adequate financial assistance was provided to herds that are quarantined under the program.

In effect that amounted to a withdrawal of support for the policy because both national and state financial assistance packages remain well short of what affected producers require to cover the costs of quarantine and eradication efforts.

If any doubt existed as to where ARCBA stood on national BJD policy after last year’s AGM, that doubt was put to rest at this year’s AGM on September 11, when the members further changed the association’s policy to state that it now supports the de-regulation of BJD across Australia.

The 180 degree turnaround over two years was based on several reasons, as explained by ARCBA’s BJD representative Alex McDonald:

  • Under a deregulated approach the very small financial impact on the vast majority of beef cattle herds which become infected with BJD. “The Silirum vaccine is now commercially available for use in the very small number of herds which have higher levels of infection and potential financial loss due to very intensive grazing management.”
  • The absence of any convincing evidence that deregulation of BJD would pose a threat to the beef export market or live cattle exports (except for the small number of herds known to be infected). Virtually every country which imports beef from Australia has endemic BJD in cattle and under WTO rules, BJD cannot be used as a trade barrier.
  • The prevalence of beef cattle herds infected with the “S” strain of Johnes Disease (otherwise known as the “Sheep strain”) which now appears to be higher than the prevalence of herds infected with “C” strain (Cattle strain) in south eastern Australia. There may be herds infected with “S” strain in WA and Qld.
  • Inadequate financial support for herds which are quarantined because of infection or suspected infection.
  • The absence of accurate tests for detecting cattle infected with BJD and the difficulty of eradication other than by complete destocking and resting of paddocks from potential infective sheep and cattle.

The national BJD strategic plan and control program was introduced in 1999 to reduce the disease’s spread across Australia’s beef and dairy industries.

It uses market assurance programs, cattle health statements and risk assessments, restrictions on the movement of animals between zones of differing BJD prevalence, and quarantine and eradication programs where detections occur in free or low-prevalence zones.

The program is currently managed by Animal Health Australia and is supported by a network of Australian livestock industry bodies including the Cattle Council of Australia, Australian Dairy Farmers, Dairy Australia, and Meat and Livestock Australia and Government departments in NSW, SA, Victoria, Queensland, WA, the NT and Tasmania.

The withdrawal of support by ARCBA alone is unlikely to disrupt the national program.

However it serves to highlight divisions that exist throughout the livestock industry over how BJD should be managed, and whether the disease poses enough of a threat to herd productivity or market access to justify the high cost and impact of existing quarantine and eradication efforts.

The program, and its associated zoning and rules and regulations, has been strongly challenged in recent years by the emergence of previously undetected strains of BJD in Australian beef cattle, the detection of BJD in States where it was not previously thought to have existed, and decisions by Victoria and Tasmania to effectively deregulate BJD management in their beef and dairy industries.

A corresponding decline in State Government resourcing for animal health issues and the lack of financial assistance for producers caught up in BJD quarantine and eradication programs is adding further pressure to the current state of affairs. A review of the National BJD Control Program is scheduled to be conducted by Animal Health Australia in 2015.

Mr McDonald said it was imperative that the terms of reference for the review were wide ranging and permit an open and objective “risk based cost/benefit” study of the current National BJD Control Program.

Cattle Council continues to support national BJD program

Cattle Council of Australia told Beef Central that it continues to support the need for a national program for several reasons. These include:

  • The Australian beef cattle herd has a low level of Johne’s Disease infection compared with herds in other countries; and cattle producers with herds free of the disease should have the tools to maintain their herd’s freedom;
  • CCA recognises the current program requires modernising to reflect changing science, increasing knowledge and declining jurisdictional involvement in endemic disease control and management;
  • CCA continues to support a strong R&D effort in pursuit of an improved test and vaccine and greater knowledge around the bacteria’s behaviour in livestock and the environment;
  • CCA agrees with the dairy industry, the Australian Registered Cattle Breeders’ Association and the Animal Health Committee (Australia’s Chief Veterinary Officers) that the national program is due for a review;
  • It is is already working on bringing the review forward from its scheduled mid 2015 review date to early 2015; and
  • CCA will be consulting through AHA with AHC, ARCBA, AVA, State Farmer Organisations, the sheep industry, governments and other relevant organisations to bring the review into effect.

Australian Johne’s Alliance welcomes ARCBA policy change

Prominent Victorian stud cattle breeder and Australian Johne’s Alliance spokesperson Don Lawson has been a long time advocate of the de-regulation of Johne’s disease.

He welcomed ARCBA’s new policy, saying that “at last, common sense is appearing on the landscape”.

“ARCBA has had the courage to do a massive U-turn,” Mr Lawson said.

“It took the Rockley affair (the detection of BJD at the Rockley stud in Qld in November 2012) to wake people up.

“All the cost benefit studies in NZ and those done in segments of the Australian livestock industry have shown that the disease is of minor relevance.

“That is except in the case of some high rainfall high stocking rate sheep producers, but over five million doses of the gudair vaccine were sold last year which demonstrates farmers are the ones to manage Johnes not bureaucrats.

“We look forward to Queensland agriculture Minister John McVeigh honouring his commmitment to provide proper compensation to those individuals who have born the cost of his advisors and AgForce’s advice to him.

“The AJA calls for a royal commission into the whole sad affair which has reaped far more devastation than the failed pink bats policy.

“The chair of Animal Health Australia should fall on his sword and clear the decks so that it can be deregulated and managed by farmers as they do with pestivirus.”




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  1. Malcolm Cock, 19/09/2014

    About time, I wish the rest of the industry would also see common sense and deregulate BJD. The irrational way the whole BJD program has been undertaken has cost individuals and industry lots off money and genetics, let alone destroyed peoples lives. BJD needs to be managed, but it needs a reliable / accurate test before there can be effective “control”.

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