BJD: Minister urges Brahman breeders to ‘reconsider’

James Nason, 15/01/2013

The Australian Brahman Breeders Association (ABBA) says the impact of quarantine restrictions on members and concerns about the ongoing stigma of Bovine Johne’s Disease were behind its decision to withdraw support for joint industry-government attempts to control BJD in Queensland.

While BJD, which is spread principally by livestock movements, can affect any breed and any type of cattle operation, the Brahman breed has been at the centre of the latest incursion after three Red Brahman cattle were detected with the disease on a Central Queensland stud in November last year.

ABBA had initially indicated it would support the existing control and eradication program at least through to March when more information from test results about the prevalence of the disease became available.

However, after weeks of mounting pressure from members caught up in the quarantine program, the ABBA board announced its decision to withdraw support following a meeting last week.

“It was a very difficult decision,” ABBA general manger John Croaker told Beef Central.

“It really has been pressure from members concerned about the impacts that movement restrictions were having on members and clients, and the fear of movement restrictions in the future, that was concerning people, certainly more than the disease itself.

“The extended lengths of quarantine is a real problem, particularly with the season the way it is, it is becoming really critical for people.”

While ABBA now believes the focus in Queensland should shift to management instead of control, supported by the release next month of Pfizer’s Silirum Vaccine, the association will wants Biosecurity Queensland to maintain an active BJD surveillance program through abattoir sampling to monitor the ongoing prevalence of the disease.

“And then when herds are found, clean it up and manage it,” Mr Croaker explained.

“We’re not saying it should be open slather, we believe the state can still retain a low prevalence of the disease.”

Mr Croaker said Brahman breeders remained concerned that even if eradication was achieved in Queensland, the fear of quarantine would continue to force the disease underground, which meant it would continue to emerge again and affect markets in future.

“We harbour some doubts that eradication is achievable just on the basis of the scale of this issue, if one incident in a major herd can cause this sort of crisis throughout the industry, then there needs to be a rethink about the procedures.”

Arguments that a control and eradication approach is needed to preserve market access in future are also not supported by the association.

“Most markets require that there has been no JD on the property of origin for the previous five years, and some other markets require a free ELISA test.

“So I wouldn’t see that those conditions still couldn’t be met under a changed program.”

The withdrawal of ABBA’s support is another setback for the joint industry-Government control effort after the owners of the stud at the centre of the latest outbreak, the Kirks, announced their decision to no longer participate in testing based on concerns about the effectiveness of eradication attempts.

Minister uges ABBA to ‘reconsider’

In a media statement issued in response to ABBA’s withdrawal of support, Queensland Agriculture Minister John McVeigh said he was “puzzled” by the decision.

“Particularly when at the industry meeting prior to Christmas, ABBA stated it agreed, along with other Queensland producer peak bodies, to continue with the BJD eradication program at least until the first round test results become available in March,” Mr McVeigh said.

“While I understand the pressure ABBA is under from some of its members, I strongly urge the ABBA Council to reconsider its decision given the strong endorsement of the current program by the rest of the beef industry, including AgForce and Cattle Council of Australia

“My Department has more than 50 officers assigned to the eradication of BJD and we are making good progress with trace-forward and risk-assessments. As of today we have removed 50 properties from the 170 initially under movement restrictions.

Mr McVeigh said BJD coordinator Dr Ron Glanville and the Biosecurity team were working with producers, including the Kirks, and said the Queensland Government remained confident of achieving success.

Testing backlog 

A serving biosecurity officer in Queensland maintains that despite Government assurances that rationalised laboratory services can handle the BJD testing load, facilities are being placed under strain which could stretch out testing time-frames, and in turn affect the duration of quarantine for affected properties.

The officer said Biosecurity Queensland currently has a backlog of 430 fresh tissue and 1576 faecal samples awaiting testing.

“So it will be eight to ten weeks before all of these are even put up for culture and there are more arriving every week.”

It follows concerns expressed last week that the exodus of staff as a result of the looming Toowoomba and Townsville lab closures is leading to a critical loss of experience at a time when BJD testing means it is most needed.

Mr McVeigh insists that staffing at the remaining Coopers Plains laboratories will be adequate when the regional labs close in March under previously announced cost-cutting moves.

“It is my opinion that the period of transition, training and backup services from the former lab system to the state of the art system at Coopers Plains, which was always to be completed by the end of this financial year, means that at present we will in fact have more lab resources available for the BJD situation in the coming months than we would have had previously.”

The government says it can also draw upon capacity at interstate laboratories in NSW and Victoria if required.


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