The need for “fair and just” compensation for producers affected by Queensland’s current response to managing Bovine Johne’s Disease was a key issue at a forum attended by more than 100 landholders near Rockhampton yesterday.
“People have to be compensated properly and there needs to be a way forward where studs are not destroyed,” forum organiser and Victorian stud cattle breeder Don Lawson said following yesterday’s event.
Mr Lawson said the forum heard from technical experts who said it would be virtually impossible to eradicate Johne’s disease, pointing to anecdotal evidence that Queensland had recorded a number of previous cases of the disease that had not been publicly disclosed.
He said the disease had no cure and no reliable test, policy decisions were being made without cost-benefit analyses on the various options available, and said stigma of the disease had to be removed otherwise the disease would continue to be driven underground.
The disease had no effect on humans, he said, and 50,000 dairy females were exported via Port Melbourne every year with no apparent market access concerns based on BJD compliance.
He said producers should be given access to a vaccine and be allowed to manage the disease themselves.
In opening the forum, large-scale Queensland cattleman Graeme Acton said compensation for affected producers had to “fair and just”, and it should be not left up to individual producers to foot the bill to pay for the industry’s eradication policy.
Victorian agricultural scientist and loss-assessment advisor Ian Aberdeen said compensation should reflect economic, trauma and inconvenience related impacts.
He said compensation claims could only get off the ground if a claimant could prove that the person who caused them damage was negligent.
Some people lacked the financial resources to seek compensation, which had resulted in the emergence of ‘no win, no pay’ deals in which legal firms sought anything up to 30 percent of the resulting compensation payment if they won.
“The best piece of advice that I can give you is to get all your facts together into one parcel so that it cannot be refuted,” Mr Aberdeen said.
Information about the prevalence of Johne’s disease in southern states presented on behalf of Victorian vet David Rendell suggested that even in southern zones where the disease is under management, BJD infection rates remain typically very low in beef cattle herds.
One survey of 16,000 cattle in 98 herds in New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia revealed just four confirmed cases of BJD, which equated to an infection rate of just 0.0025pc.
A survey of 19,300 cattle in 296 herds in Tasmania detected just three confirmed cases or an infection rate of 0.015pc.
While the incidence of BJD appeared to be less than 1pc, the incidence of Pestivirus was
10-20 times higher.
Another Victorian based veterinarian, John Webb-Ware, who was forced to destock his own family property due to BJD, said a survey of the financial impact of the disease conducted by the Mackinnon Project found that the production impact for beef herds was negligible.
However the policy impact for commercial herds resulted in loss of sales, time restrictions and loss of production and for studs the ongoing regulation potentially meant the end of their business.
“If we are going down the destocking path, we need to have fundamental support for producers – that really needs to be emphasised,” Dr Webb-Ware said.
“Fundamentally eradication is nearly impossible – that’s the nature of the disease, we’ll always be chasing our tail.”
He added that compensation must be adequate, otherwise the disease would continue to be driven underground.
AgForce Cattle Board Chairman Howard Smith said the broadacre producer group remained firmly behind its policy of maintaining a protected status for Queensland.
He agreed that individual producers should not bear the cost of eradication and said AgForce was continuing to lobby the government for a support fund.
NSW cattle and sheep producer and former Cattle Council of Australia board member Nick Keatinge who has had 14 years of experience dealing with BJD issues urged producers to sit back and wait for a test before making their move.
He said BJD arrived on properties on “the back of a truck”.
The meeting passed a resolution that a committee be formed to provide advice to do research into a practicable BJD policy, while the meeting also resolved to investigat whether any consideration had been given by the government to removing BJD from the notifiable disease list.
An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the venue for yesterday's forum was Paradise Lagoons. The forum was moved to the Rockhampton Leagues Club due to wet weather.