Time to deregulate Johne’s disease control: Don Lawson

James Nason, 27/11/2012

A prominent southern stud cattle producer says Australia should abandon attempts to control and eradicate Bovine Johne’s disease and instead give producers access to preventative vaccines so they can manage the disease themselves.

Don Lawson, Lawsons Angus, Yea, Victoria, has been a fierce critic of the eradication-based approach to managing Johne’s disease for more than a decade.

He argues that the control program poses a bigger problem for the cattle industry than the disease itself.

Mr Lawson said BJD was a relatively minor disease that was present in almost every country of the world. It was found in 160 species of animals from wild deer and birds to earthworms which made it all but impossible to eradicate. Properties that had been destocked under control programs were often re- infected soon after being restocked.

Mortality statistics showed that the beef industry lost more cattle to “road kill, heads stuck in trees or snake bite” each year than it did to BJD.

However, the impact of a positive detection for a livestock business under the current national control program was potentially devastating.

Producers with infected animals faced the likelihood of having to eradicate valuable livestock with little to no compensation. The maximum assistance available under the national control program is $11,000 per business.

Lawsons Angus sells beef genetics to all states of Australia and to a range of international markets including New Zealand, the Falklands Islands, North America, Britain and Russia.

Mr Lawson, a qualified agricultural scientist, said he believes Johne’s regulations represent the biggest single threat to his family’s business.

Speaking at an Australian Wool Innovation conference in Sydney earlier this month, he spoke of the hardship his family experienced when cattle from their stud returned what later proved to be false positives in BJD tests.

They were forced to slaughter high-value seedstock and run cultures to avoid being shut down, and to quash any chance of false rumours destroying the business.

“The stigma associated with the disease is worse than any clinical effects of the disease itself,” he said.

Mr Lawson said one positive test would destroy the operation’s export business to Russia and its domestic business.

He said the family’s decision to establish breeding units in four states was also driven largely by concerns about BJD regulations.

“The risks of having 2000 plus stud cows in Yea was too great from the BJD perspective when one false test would close the whole business down and 40 plus years of work would be destroyed,” he said.

Mr Lawson said that despite resulting in the eradication of millions of dollars worth of livestock, the Market Assurance Program had failed to control the spread of Johne’s Disease. In fact infection rates had continued to spread despite its existence.

A further demonstration of the MAP program’s failure lay in statistics that showed only 6pc of the 11,000 registered beef studs are participating in regular testing, he said.

“The draconian regulations put in place to ensure jobs for the boys in the veterinary profession have brought such havoc to the livelihood of so many families,” Mr Lawson said.

“Too many farmers have suicided and many have ongoing health problems as a direct result.”

He is also critical of the fact that producers can only access a BJD vaccine once their herd is infected.

In his view the vaccine should be made available to Australian producers for preventative purposes, and management of the disease returned to farmers to deal with as a management issue.

“The exit strategy should be to hand the management of the disease back to the farmers and give them the tools to manage this issue for high rainfall, intensive livestock areas,” he said.

“This is how leptospirosis is managed and it has serious and proven health issues for both humans and animals. Johnes disease itself has no effect on humans.”

Mr Lawson’s advice to the Queensland stud at the centre of the detection announced on Monday was to go public as soon as possible to avoid unnecessary stigma and innuendo and not to allow authorities to kill their bulls.

He said the unreliability of current tests for BJD meant that they should contract a private vet to take independent samples for testing at different laboratories.

“The damage to your business is likely to be in the millions,” he said in an email to sent to the Rockley Stud on Monday night.

“Let them come up with the money first, they simply cannot destroy people for a diseasethat is of little importance to the beef without proper compensation.”


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