The vast majority of written submissions lodged ahead of today’s national Bovine Johne’s Disease forum in Sydney argue for deregulation of national BJD management and better compensation for producers affected by existing control measures.
Among the many groups calling for the deregulation of the disease is the Australian Registered Cattle Breeder’s Association. The peak body representing Australia’s stud cattle industry, and which represents close to 8000 cattle studs, withdrew its support for the national BJD program last year, as reported by Beef Central at the time.
In its submission, ARCBA recommends that the Australian beef industry follow the path of the dairy and sheep industries by introducing risk based on‐farm biosecurity management of BJD.
That would have several advantages, ARCBA argues, including:
- The removal of emotional and financial stress on owners of quarantined infected or suspect herds;
- Removal of the need for compensation of owners of quarantined herds;
- A great reduction in the contribution required from Cattle Transaction Fees to manage BJD;
- Removal of the huge financial commitment of State Governments to the Regulation of BJD ;
- Removal of the stress on Government staff who administer the Regulation of BJD
The Australian Brahman Breeder’s Association, in supporting ARCBA’s position, said producers were more fearful of the current quarantine approach than they were of BJD.
“Costs of quarantine are out of proportion with economic losses associated with the disease,” ABBA writes in its submission.
“The impacts of quarantine are particularly severe on cattle producers trading store cattle, particularly those supplying export markets.”
Also supporting ARCBA’s position in favour of deregulation, the Australian Beef Association said BJD was not a disease so much as a syndrome, but its misnomer as a disease influenced misperceptions about the actual level of threat it posed.
“Australian producers identified as being affected by BJD have had to bear the full ramification – personally, emotionally and financially – of a misnamed ‘disease’ that has a foot print in most of the countries of the world. This is a spore that exists in the soil worldwide, and which under the right conditions will affect some cattle within a herd.
“ABA believes this rate of infection nation-wide is below .001% of the national herd.
“We believe the crisis is in the misinformation about the syndrome, the negative hype that is given to the syndrome by media, vets, and misplaced medical beliefs.
“This then leads on to an isolation of the individuals involved, and an over-reaction by other misinformed producers.”
Private Queensland veterinarian Dr John Armstrong says the “Northern Extensive Approach” used to manage BJD in Queensland has been seriously flawed.
It was a case where “the cure was infinitely more damaging than the disease”. The use of quarantine power had been ill-considered, he said, and simply confirmed the status quo at unacceptable cost:
Quarantine played no role is establishing that fact. That could have been achieved without the attendant grief. The consequences were financial hardship, in some cases extreme, only good fortune averted tragic consequences. The authoritarian and unsympathetic approach of the BJD response has unnecessarily undermined producer goodwill to disease control. What consequences will this have for disease surveillance in the vulnerable northern areas bereft of official biosecurity personnel?
Several individual cattle producers also lodged submissions detailing their wn personal stories of financial and emotional hardships at the hand of strict BJD control and eradication policies.
Central Queensland cattle producer Nita Petersen outlined the financial devastation her family has endured after being placed in quarantine for more than two years, despite the fact that tests on their cattle returned negative results for BJD.
They are now deeply in debt despite having been debt free when they bought their property.
The Petersens say they received constantly changing directions from Queensland Government staff who themselves admitted they did not know what to do.
“Financially we are losing!,” Mrs Petersen writes. “We are struggling to make ends meet as we had approximately 95pc of our income taken away from us for far too long and now we could lose our livelihood.
My husband has been in this industry his whole life and his family owned land for over 50 years. Now we may have to sell up because of all the mistakes that we were forced to endure.”
Another case for deregulation is made by farmer and private veterinarian, Dr Rod Hoare from Binda in New South Wales, who in 2012 was awarded the Biosecurity Farmer of the Year (livestock) award at the Australian Farmer of the Year Awards.
Dr Hoare, who now runs a cattle stud in the NSW Southern Tablelands, spent decades working for the NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI), which meant he had been involved on all sides of the issue since the 1970s.
However, he said, it was not until he was personally affected with BJD, when a source herd from which he had bought cattle was detected with BJD, that he fully appreciated all aspects of being placed in quarantine.
Dr Hoare had to slaughter cattle which were the result of 40 years of breeding, and had an embargo placed on sales of high EBV cattle to stud breeders, meaning his operation “suffered dearly”.
Furthermore, bulls sold to his commercial clients were slaughtered without compensation, which meant clients were loath to take the risk of buying from him again.
‘The odious reputation of being affected by BJD has not left us’
“The odious reputation of being affected by BJD has not left us,” he said.
Dr Hoare said the cost of using an embryo transfer program to salvage his herd’s genetics would have been crippling and time consuming:
“We would need to collect 100 embryos to replace our 50 females. We can carry about 50 lactating females so the project would take at least 2 years. Sourcing recipients would also be a problem. Calves born using ET cost at least $1,000 per head. To produce our 50 females would therefore cost $2000 each or $100,000 in total and would take 4 years before the offspring would be breeding, during which time we would still be in quarantine. A friend that used ET to rid his herd of BJD estimates it cost him over $250,000.”
As a result he split his herd into a low risk and high-risk group to act as an insurance policy in case BJD was detected in his own herd in future.
However, the strategy also placed considerable demands on farm management and resources, meaning that they doubled the number of mobs of animals, and had to have two different calving groups etc.
The split herd system proved more involved, managerially difficult and costly in terms of time and money than he imagined, he said.
“We estimate that we lost an average of $1,000 per animal, being the difference between commercial and stud prices, over our 50 cow herd for the three years we were quarantined or a total of $150,000. We received compensation of about $25,000.
Deregulation would lead to significantly reduced costs, he explained:
If the disease was deregulated the cost in an infected herd would be limited to handling the clinically affected animals, with perhaps a maximum of 5pc of cows requiring culling annually. These culls would be old cows and could be culled for many reasons at this stage of their lives. There might be some loss of salvage value of perhaps $200 per affected animal, due to weight loss of perhaps 100 kg. In a herd like ours the cost would be less than $1,000 per year. In summary, the costs of BJD in an infected herd are minimal in comparison to the substantial costs inflicted on a herd identified as infected or suspect with the current regulated policy.
A submission by the Department of Agriculture’s Animal Health Committee, which comprises the chief vets from every state and which effectively signed off on the existing standards, rules, definitions and Guidelines for national BJD management, itself highlights problems with the current program.
The AHC submission notes that the complexity of national BJD programs has impacted negatively on producer engagement, while available diagnostic tools and surveillance not providing adequate confidence.
It also points out that that regulated management of BJD for production reasons alone has not been demonstrated to have a positive cost benefit in other countries, and that regulatory measures in Australia do cause risks for businesses.
The AHC says it believes that BJD should remain a notifiable disease and state and territory authorities must maintain records and issue certification based on records held by authorities, and that properties seeking to export must meet the importing country requirements.
However, “This does not obligate jurisdictions to undertake regulatory measures on detections of M. Paratuberculosis”, it said.
One of the very few submissions written in support of the regulatory approach was lodged by the Australian Veterinary Association.
Its submission argues that Paratuberculosis is a listed disease under the World Animal Health Organisation’s Terrestrial Animal Health Code, and thus, Australia has international obligations to monitor and report on the prevalence of the disease in all species in order to access export markets.
“AVA accepts that a national framework is necessary to comply with international obligations and to avoid the complications that would arise if the states and territories all had different unrelated regulations.”