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Cattle breeders question BJD cost analysis delay

James Nason, 15/01/2014

Representatives of producers affected by the Bovine Johne’s Disease control program in Queensland are questioning whether the Queensland Government has something to hide by not releasing the results of a cost-benefit analysis of different control strategies.

Queensland’s chief biosecurity officer Dr Jim Thompson told a BJD industry forum in Brisbane on June 24 last year that departmental staff had conducted an economic analysis comparing the relative costs and benefits of maintaining Queensland as a BJD Protected Zone and allowing the disease to be producer managed.

He told the meeting that the release of the cost-benefit analysis was imminent, however, seven months later, the final report has yet to be made public.

As dozens of producers struggle beneath the costs of having to slaughter valuable genetics and run properties under quarantine restrictions, they are increasingly questioning whether a lower impact producer-managed approach, such as that used to control diseases such as Leptospirosis or pestivirus, would be better.

The Queensland Government’s cost benefit analysis, which was recommended by the Finlay-Hill report of April 2013, and ordered by Mr McVeigh soon after, should help to shed more light on the issue, but as yet its results remain no where to be seen.

A spokesperson for the minister’s office said in response to Beef Central’s questions about the cost benefit analysis that drought had forced the Queensland Department of Agriculture to divert resources away from the BJD cost-benefit analysis report and towards drought management work.

However that response has not washed with some of those who are representing commercial and stud cattle producers most affected by the BJD control program.

“It is now mid January 2014 and the cost/benefit analysis has still not been released,” Alex McDonald, the BJD Representative on the Australian Registered Cattle Breeders Association told Beef Central this week.

“One has to question why Qld DAFF and Minister McVeigh are withholding the results of the economic analysis and the assumptions that were made in doing the analysis.”

Mr McDonald said rural media coverage continued to highlight the high cost being borne by producers caught up in the quarantine and control program, and the complete inadequacy of the financial assistance provided by the Qld Government to those producers in response.

In a Queensland Government press release issued on January 18 last year, premier Campbell Newman and Minister McVeigh stated that “the Newman Government did not expect individual producers to bear the cost of eradication programs that ultimately benefit all in the cattle industry”.

Mr McDonald said a need exists for a transparent analysis of the real cost of the BJD incidents in Queensland (the Rockley detection and the more recent Hollins Bay detection) on the assumption that individual producers do not have to bear the cost of maintaining Queensland’s BJD Protected status.

“If those producers affected by the current Queensland government policy cannot be adequately compensated there needs to be a major rethink of the current BJD strategy in Queensland based on a rigorous cost/benefit analysis which we were told was almost completed in June 2013,” Mr McDonald said.

“What are the Qld Government and Minister McVeigh trying to hide?”

The economic impact on the live export industry if Queensland was to become a BJD Management Zone also required a realistic assessment, Mr McDonald said.

At the BJD industry forum in Brisbane last June Dr Jim Thompson stated that access to export markets would not necessarily change for Queensland producers if the state shifted to a producer managed approach, because most of the 42 countries that required imported cattle to be free of BJD require that to be demonstrated at the individual herd level – which is the same for properties in the BJD Management Zone in the southern states which have access to the same countries as Queensland producers have access. 

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