A major shift is about to occur in the way Australia’s cattle industry manages Johne’s disease.
National policies aimed at controlling and eradicating Johne’s are set to be scrapped in favour of allowing producers to manage their risk of the disease at farm-level.
The national BJD review committee has released its final framework strategy for managing Johne’s disease in future and recommends shifting to a more deregulated approach.
Industry stakeholders have until November 18 to provide their feedback, with the new strategy due for implementation at the start of 2016.
The new policy will see the system of Johne’s free, protected and management zones go.
Johne’s will still be maintained as a notifiable disease, which means that producers with affected herds will still have to report the detection to their State Department.
But that is about as far as the national regulation will go.
Individual states may still impose restrictions on the type of livestock they will allow to cross their borders based on Johne’s risk. WA for example only permits the entry of cattle certified with the highest level of Johne’s assurance, MN3 status. It remains to be seen if WA, Queensland, the Northern Territory will continue to impose movement restrictions when the new national policy is introduced.
Under the proposed national policy there will be no more hard-hitting quarantine and herd culling programs aimed at controlling and eradicating the disease.
Control-focused policies have seen hundreds of northern cattle producers in recent years subjected to severe financial and psychological impacts with little to no compensation
Different rules for different strains of Johne’s should also disappear.
Johne’s is now regarded as Johne’s regardless of whether it is the cattle strain, bison strain or sheep strain, which can all infect cattle.
One of the crazy elements of the current policy is that herds diagnosed with cattle or bison strain must be subjected to punishing control and eradication programs, while herds infected with the sheep strain, which is effectively the same disease, are waived through and allowed to operate as normal.
The new strategy is acknowledgement that the aim of eradicating or controlling Johne’s is an all but impossible goal, and a policy that will subject producers to worse financial and psychological impacts than the target disease itself.
“At some stage we had to do an assessment and say can we control this, can we slow its spread, or do we just simply live with it?,” Animal Health Australia chief executive officer Duncan Rowland told Beef Central.
“Government and industry said we think it is time we make that call and they both said we think we just have to manage it.
“This is a program that is getting too costly, it is getting unwieldy, we need to do the best thing for our producers.”
Mr Rowland described the new strategy as a “buyer beware” approach.
“This is about looking after your own stock and implementing biosecurity practices to make sure you are covered.
“What we are trying to do is come back to a market driven approach.
“If you provide live export stock to Indonesia and they say you need to have five years clearance on your property of Johne’s and tested negative before going, and you are buying stock to trade into that area, then you need to pay particular attention to the source of your animals.
“If you are a stud stock producer and you are selling to commercial producers who want to breed stock for Johne’s Disease-sensitive markets, then you need to have some sort of system in place that provides an assurance to your buyer that you are free.”
A vaccine produced by Zoetis called Silirum is also now commercially available for producers in higher risk locations to protect against Johne’s infection.
Another big question is whether the hundreds of cattle producers severely impacted by the eradication and control focused policies of recent years will be compensated appropriately.
Mr Rowland said the question of compensation was outside the remit of the national review process and was largely a State responsibility.
“We have not touched on that at all, it is separate to the national BJD strategy that has been in place for the last couple of years.
“The only compensation that was part of that was through the financial/non-financial scheme and that was where Cattle Council of Australia provided some funding for producers to do a business case analysis on what was best for them so they could continue trading, with counselors provided to help them to seek assistance.”
The new approach aims to “de-stigmatise” the disease, Mr Rowland said.
“So we have gone away from trying to control it. At one stage it was eradicate, then it was control, now we’re at a manage stage,” Mr Rowland explained.
“We don’t want quarantining to occur, and all of the tracing that went on from say Rockley, that is going.
“So you might do a trace one step forward and a trace back to get a bit of a picture, and then it comes back to the property. We then know we have had an animal with JD on that property, that property then has a record to say it has had JD on such and such a date, and that is it.
“So if that property goes to export animals and the market requires them to have been free for five years and they have had it two years ago, then they can’t send those animals.”
Mr Rowland said existing risk assessment tools and processes including the Market Assurance Program will also be refined based on feedback received throughout the long-running review and consultation process.
“The Cattle MAP at the moment is top heavy, expensive and full of bureaucracy and we need to make it more user friendly,” he said.