National BJD Forum told: ‘We need a program that doesn’t destroy people’

James Nason, 17/02/2015

Changes to national Bovine Johne’s Disease management policies could be in place by January next year if a formal review process goes to plan.

Growing concerns about the fairness and necessity of existing high-impact BJD management policies across Australia prompted Animal Health Australia to bring forward a planned review of the national program to this month.

Numerous stud and commercial cattle enterprises have experienced major hardships under existing quarantine and eradication focused policies for managing BJD, while many also question the commercial significance of the disease on herd productivity or market access.

The national review process officially kicked off with a forum in Sydney yesterday.

Submissions lodged prior to the event and feedback received from around 100 industry stakeholders during yesterday’s forum are today being considered by a panel including AHA staff, chief veterinary officers from each State and representatives from the Cattle Council of Australia and the Federal Government.

Yesterday’s meeting was told that proposed changes to the national program will hopefully be agreed upon and finalised by the end of August, 2015, and any required changes to legislation will be in place by January 1, 2016.

Beef Central was unable to report directly on the proceedings at yesterday’s discussion forum because it was informed by AHA prior to the event that the forum would not be open to the media.

Those who did attend were reportedly asked to keep the proceedings “in house”, but some attendees last night shared with Beef Central what they saw as some of the key developments and take home messages.

The stakeholders, who asked to not to be identified, said the general feel of the meeting was in favour of deregulating BJD management and allowing the disease to be managed on-farm with the use of vaccinations where necessary, as diseases considered to be of greater significance such as Leptospirosis and Pestivirus currently are.

They said there was also strong support in the room for producers affected by forced quarantine and eradication programs to receive compensation for their impacts on a retrospective basis.

As reported by Beef Central yesterday, most of the 25 submissions lodged ahead of the forum were in support of deregulation and retrospective compensation.

The key industry groups that have supported the existing national program for BJD, such as the Cattle Council of Australia, AgForce and the Victorian Farmers Federation, did not make formal submissions outlining their position to the inquiry.

One prominent industry stakeholder who attended the forum said the proceedings reinforced the view that BJD can’t be eradicated, and that despite more than $9.8m being spent by MLA on research so far, a reliable test and/or cure was still not available.

“They have to get a program that will manage Johne’s and not destroy people with it,” he said.

“It has got to move to a more proactive management system where people are rewarded for managing it, rather than destroyed.

“You can see that now happening in the sheep industry where five million gudair vaccines have been sold and vaccinated sheep are tending to make a premium in the market place.”

The relatively recent revelation that cattle can become infected by the sheep version of Johne’s disease has made the task of controlling the spread of Johne’s through regulation even more complicated and challenging.

While opponents of the current system talk about favouring “deregulation”, the term is not precisely accurate in describing what they see as the way forward. Many seem to accept that some form of regulation to identify the Johne’s disease tested status of livestock in future, such as through vendor declarations etc, will still be required.

“It will still have to be a notifiable disease for purposes of live export, but the idea should be that we go to a system that is market controlled, not a system that is regulated or controlled by bureaucrats,” another stakeholder said.


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