Months of industry division over the management of Bovine Johne’s Disease in Queensland appears to be at an end.
The Australian Brahman Breeder’s Association has renewed its support for moves to maintain the state’s Protected Zone status after walking away from the policy earlier this year.
However its position remains subject to the outcome of negotiations over whether more flexible pathways to market can be opened for producers still affected by quarantine, and whether more assistance can be made available to cover their impacts.
ABBA general manager John Croaker told Beef Central this morning that the association and the BJD Action Coalition had changed its policy at a recent meeting to enable the entire industry to move forward with unity and certainty.
In the days following confirmation of a BJD incursion on the Rockley Brahman Stud near Rockhampton in November last year, all industry groups in Queensland initially agreed to support a control and eradication response to preserve the state’s Protected Zone Status, at least until further testing was able to provide a picture of how far the disease had spread.
The policy resulted in more than 100 properties, which had bought bulls from Rockley in the previous seven years of NLIS records, being placed under quarantine and subjected to herd testing to determine their BJD status.
As the impact of the massive quarantine program grew, and with questions emerging as to the true significance of BJD as a serious threat to herd productivity or market access, ABBA made a decision in January to withdraw its support for the industry’s control and eradication program.
Instead it called for the disease to be deregulated and managed by producers at farm level with the support of a commercially available vaccine, as other diseases such as Leptospirosis are managed.
However ABBA general manager John Croaker told Beef Central today that after a recent industry meeting, it was clear other industry groups and the Queensland Government were unlikely to change their position in favour of the existing approach.
“We came to the conclusion that there was no point in continuing our position, that the industry and everybody was going to be better off if we could come to a combined and united position to go forward with some certainty,” Mr Croaker said.
“There were a few things obviously that fed into that decision – the prospect of getting some more financial assistance, and the fact that the amount or prevalence of infection that has spread from Rockley has been substantially less than was previously indicated.
“In the scheme of things we’re not convinced that a management position would not be the best way in the longer term, but it would require the Northern Territory and Western Australia to come to that conclusion as well, which they’re unlikely to do.”
Mr Croaker said ABBA and the BJD Action Coalition were still negotiating for the impact of quarantine programs to be eased by providing affected producers with access to domestic markets for terminal cattle, and access to export markets for at least part of their properties, in addition to more financial assistance to cover their impacts.
“We’re really expecting that there will be some sort of movement on these quarantine issues,” he said.
“Our recognition that the prevalence has not been as great ought to be reflected in the management of the quarantine herd.
“They have recognised they are taking a low-risk, not a no-risk, approach to it right from the start, but that low risk assessment needs to be more consistent across the spectrum of the decisions that are required.”
United industry has more firepower: AgForce
AgForce Cattle Board president Howard Smith said a united voice gave the industry greater firepower in its collective efforts to achieve more flexible pathways and to mitigate the impacts for producers still affected by movement restrictions.
He said the BJD experience had been a steep learning curve for all groups in Queensland, but that efforts to mitigate the disease were on the right track, with the number of affected properties now down to 37 from an initial 170.
He said AgForce had based its position in support of maintaining Qld’s Protected Zone on the science as it became available. That feedback had shown that control and eradication was achieveable and worth pursuing.
“We feel that maintaining the Protected Status, which is little or no prevalence of BJD in Queensland, gives our industry an assurance that it will still have access to markets in future,” he said.
“And obviously it is still a disease and there is a welfare issue there, we have a duty to care to try and mitigate the disease.
“There are a lot of reasons why we believe industry has a responsibility for now and for the future to maintain the protected zone.”
He said AgForce was also concerned that if management of the disease were to be deregulated , BJD could ultimately effect a far greater number of producers than currently impacted by the quarantine program.
“We believe these issues have to be underpinned with some sort of regulation, otherwise they have no integrity,” Mr Smith said.
“We did not have confidence that if it was producer-managed and not underpinned by some regulation there was the possibility the disease could have spread.
“There was no silver bullet, we looked at vaccines, but they weren’t quite what everyone seemed to think they would have been.”
While AgForce was criticised for supporting a policy that caused considerable impacts to producers affected by the quarantine program, Mr Smith said a lot of producers were also telling the organisation that it had a responsibility to protect the whole of industry.
“We are very pleased everyone is moving forward and at the end of the day the people that are caught up in the quarantine and restricted movements are the ones industry and the department needs to focus on to try and achieve a result.”