More than 100 cattle producers including major studs face a nervous wait in coming days to learn if they face trading restrictions or the possible eradication of cattle following the detection of Bovine Johne’s disease in Central Queensland on Monday.
Queensland biosecurity officers are tracing the movement of “substantial numbers” of cattle from the Kirk family's Rockley Red Brahman Stud at Bajool near Rockhampton where the disease was detected to determine how far it may have spread.
Bovine Johne’s disease (BJD) is a wasting disease that can cause emaciation and death in cattle, but poses no risk to human health.
The detection announced yesterday represents the first significant case of BJD in Queensland, which is classified as a ‘Protected Zone’ under the National Bovine Johnes Disease Plan.
While BJD has been reported in the state previously, earlier cases have been limited to small detections in dairy herds on the Atherton Tableland and Darling Downs.
This latest event is significant because it involves a stud and substantial movements of cattle to other properties during the potential infection period, including to other major stud and commercial cattle enterprises in Queensland and interstate.
Biosecurity Queensland said the Rockhampton stud herd appeared to have been infected for "many years", but the original source of the infection was not clear.
“These movements are being traced and risk assessments will be undertaken to determine the potential spread of disease,” Biosecurity Queensland said in an official statement notifying of the disease (reprinted below).
Queensland's chief vet Rick Symons told ABC Radio the stud had been placed in quarantine and that Biosecurity Queensland would be contacting about 160 cattle producers who had purchased cattle from the stud.
Rockley is one of central Queensland's best known and respected Red Brahman studs and regularly features among the top prices at the annual Rockhampton Brahman Week bull sales.
Ashley Kirk told Beef Central the detection has forced the stud to shut down its herd bull operation.
"We're just working through a process now to try and get some paddocks free so we can do our IVF work so down the track we can have a stud again," he said.
"We still have our genetics but it will all have to be through embryo and IVF to keep it going, without that herd bull market behind you, it makes it harder."
Cattle Council of Australia animal health, welfare and biosecurity advisor Justin Toohey urged producers who may be contacted as part of the trace back and trace forward program to “take it slowly” and not to make any rash production decisions.
“The advice to producers who think they are a trace property is to take a few deep breaths, do not go out and cull anything, just settle back and wait for proper technical advice and take it from there,” Mr Toohey said.
Biosecurity Queensland offered similar advice: "It is very important that any producer who holds cattle from this property seeks advice from their private veterinarian or Biosecurity Queensland. Producers are strongly advised not to cull these cattle, as that could result in lengthy delays in resolving the risk of infection."
Once trace properties are identified, testing will commence to verify if BJD is present in each property's herd.
A culture test which is considered the most effective of the three available diagnostic tests for BJD takes between six to eight weeks to produce a result.
Under the National Bovine Johnes Disease Program affected producers are eligible to receive to receive up to $11,000 in cash, including GST, to assist with the costs of testing to determine their status.
Where BJD is identified, Biosecurity Queensland said it will work with property owners to develop a plan “to manage and eradicate the disease from the property while retaining the leading genetics of the herd”.
Mr Toohey said the question of whether properties would face trading restrictions if found to have BJD would rely largely on the level of infection.
He added that in many cases in the past, trace properties were not affected by the disease.
“In the southern states when we have had this sort of incident before we have found very low incidence of the disease in the trace properties, and that is a possibility here,” Mr Toohey said.
“That is an optimistic view, however you always need to plan for the worst.”
As a Protected Zone Queensland is likely to favour eradication where possible, but Mr Toohey said that decision would ultimately come down to how many properties are identified and what the likely cost will be.
BJD can take three to four years to manifest itself in animals infected with the disease, adding to the complexity of the current traceback program in Queensland.
Mr Toohey said the National Bovine Johne’s Disease Plan was based on the premise that BJD is a disease worth stamping out and/or restricting.
While sheep producers now have access to the Gudair Vaccine to limit the potential of Ovine Johne’s disease to shed and spread, there is currently no vaccine approved for preventative use against the closely related Bovine Johne’s disease in the cattle industry.
Research work aimed at developing a cattle vaccine for Australian producers is currently underway at the University of Sydney.
People seeking more information are urged to call 13 25 23, or visit www.biosecurity.qld.gov.au
Further information about the National Johne's Disease Control Program is also available on the Animal Health Australia website by clicking here
Queensland's Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry statement
QDAFF issued the following statement at 12:08pm Queensland time on Monday attributed to Queensland Chief Veterinary Officer Rick Symons:
"Bovine Johne’s Disease has been detected in a stud beef cattle herd near Rockhampton.
"The herd appears to have been infected for many years, but the source of infection is not clear at this time.
"BJD does not pose a risk to human health.
"Biosecurity Queensland is working with the owner to develop a plan aimed at managing and eradicating the disease from the property and retaining the leading genetics of the herd.
"There have been substantial cattle movements between the affected property and other properties, including major stud and commercial cattle properties in Queensland and interstate. These movements are being traced and risk assessments will be undertaken to determine the potential spread of disease.
"The Queensland Government and the national beef industry are working together to prevent any further spread of infection with the aim of eradicating the disease from the state.
"Biosecurity Queensland officers are contacting affected producers to provide information and contain the risk of disease spread.
"It is very important that any producer who holds cattle from this property seeks advice from their private veterinarian or Biosecurity Queensland. Producers are strongly advised not to cull these cattle, as that could result in lengthy delays in resolving the risk of infection.
"Bovine Johne’s disease is a serious disease of cattle and other ruminant species. The disease can cause chronic diarrhoea or ill-thrift, leading to emaciation and eventually death. There is no effective treatment and it is not a risk to human health.
"Queensland has maintained a very low prevalence of Johne’s disease through requirements for entry of stock to the state and by rigorous control of known or suspected infection.
"For more information call 13 25 23, or visit www.biosecurity.qld.gov.au
"Follow Biosecurity Queensland on Facebook and Twitter (@BiosecurityQld)."
Industry working with authorities: AgForce
In a media statement issued on Monday afternoon, AgForce Queensland today reinforced its commitment to working with authorities and to protecting the state’s beef industry following the announcement Bovine Johne’s disease (BJD) had been detected on a cattle property near Rockhampton.
BJD is a serious disease of cattle and other ruminant species which causes chronic diarrhoea or ill-thrift in older stock, leading to emaciation and eventually death. While there is no effective treatment for the disease it has a very low prevalence in Queensland as a result of stringent control measures.
Incoming AgForce Cattle Board President, Howard Smith, said he while there is no scientific evidence the disease poses risk to human health it did create some management issues for the cattle industry.
“It is very rare for BJD to be detected in Queensland as we are a Protected Zone under the National Bovine Johne’s Disease Plan which has worked well in the past to manage and prevent the disease,” Mr Smith said.
“The safety of eating beef and associated products will not be impacted by the detection of this disease in Central Queensland, however given there have been substantial movement of stock from the affected property over recent years there is some risk of disease spread.”
“This risk is being assessed by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry and potentially impacted producers are being contacted.”
Mr Smith said AgForce will lobby Government to ensure the best interests of beef production in Queensland are protected.
“We will continue to speak with Government and appropriate agencies to stay across the progress of investigations and to communicate this progress to our members to help ensure the safety of this multi-billion dollar industry,” he said.
“It is important to note BJD is present in most of the countries Australia trades with and should not place the Queensland industry at any commercial disadvantage.”
“Furthermore, we have no reason to suggest at this stage we will not be able to maintain our protected status.”