West wild over Johne’s deregulation plan

James Nason, 27/11/2015

Plans to deregulate Bovine Johne’s disease nationally are meeting stern resistance from Western Australia.

A national review committee recently recommended a framework which no longer recognises the current Johne’s management zones across Australia, and would instead allow producers to manage the risk of introducing the disease to their farms.

If adopted the new policy would do away with the existing national BJD control and eradication program, under which properties with cattle suspected of being infected with Johne’s must submit to herd quarantine and cattle culling programs, without substantial compensation.

An integral part of the current national control and eradication program is the Market Assurance Program (MAP) with which herds in south east Australia must comply before they can send cattle to Western Australia. The new framework proposes that the MAP be reviewed either modified or removed.

The new policy, if adopted, would require producers to make their own assessments about the risk of contracting Johne’s Disease in their herds through deciding which animals to allow onto their properties. A vaccine is also available for use in the herds which are infected.

Johne’s is a notifiable incurable disease. A range of different strains known as cattle, sheep and bison strains can infect cattle and can cause wasting and death in affected animals. Most impacts are in high-rainfall areas and affect older cattle.

The actual threat posed by Johne’s to herd health and market access has been hotly debated, with some claiming the disease warrants stringent regulations to prevent its spread, while others say the disease has negligible consequences for most commercial herds, and eradication is an impossible goal because the disease survives outside livestock and lives in the general environment.

Some export markets will not accept cattle from individual properties that have had a clinically-proven case of the disease in the previous five years.

WA opposes deregulation

Under the existing national BJD Management program which does not recognise the sheep strain as a cause of Johnes disease in cattle, Western Australia is classified as a BJD free Zone.

WA farmers says WA is the only state in Australia to have been declared free of BJD and believes that status is valuable and must be protected.

The farm group has recently taken out a newspaper advertisement – reprinted below – calling for WA producers to support continued regulation of the disease in Western Australia.

WA Farmers says it is concerned the proposal to deregulate Johne’s will severely impact the state’s beef and dairy industries by exposing individual producers to higher costs to test individual animals or herds to prove herd freedom, which is not required at present because WA has ‘Area’ freedom.

It also believes removing existing zoning could increase the risk of WA producers being shut out of key export markets. Read more about WA Farmer’s position in its submission here.



WA farmers Johnes ad

WA Farmers ‘scare tactics’

However, other cattle producers who have been leading the fight against existing control and management policies say WA industry leaders are using scare tactics and spreading misleading information and their position will act as a means of restricting trade.

Producers campaigning for deregulation say the existing ‘area’ zones have no impact on the marketing of stock, with export status solely reliant on the status of the individual property from which stock are sold.

Victorian stud cattle breeder and long-time Johne’s campaigner Don Lawson said WA Farmer’s position in favour of continued access restrictions would only disadvantage WA commercial producers by preventing them from accessing cattle from other states.

He said WA stud beef producers will be forced to test to be able to claim their cattle are free of Johne’s.

“The real losers are commercial operations in WA who want to restock from eastern states,” Mr Lawson said.

“In the last drought in WA, 100,000 cattle cross the Nullabor to the eastern states.

“WA is now short of cattle and can really only restock from areas such as Alice Springs.”

Mr Lawson also questioned WA’s claim of being Johne’s free.

He said the nature of the organism and its longevity in the environment made the disease impossible to eradicate.

The prevalence of Johne’s Disease in WA sheep flocks also meant it was likely the same strain had infected co-grazing cattle, he said.

“The BJD review is now classifying both strains (bovine and ovine) as Johne’s, so WA cannot be free,” he said.

“This is history repeating itself. The original supporters of the Johne’s eradication in southern NSW and WA were stud cattle and sheep breeders, who saw it as a useful trade barrier to protect their market from competition”.

The Australian Registered Cattle Breeder’s Association recently told Beef Central that cattle breeders in states such as Queensland and Western Australia had been under ‘a misguided view’ that the arbitrary zoning of their respective states as Free or Protected gave them an advantage in the live export market.

“Nothing could be further from the truth as the eligibility to export cattle is based on an individual property BJD status.”

Queensland supports regulation

In Queensland, AgForce has also written a submission to the national BJD review panel calling for regulatory control processes for Johne’s Disease in Queensland to be retained.

Animal Health Australia is now considering public consultation to its recently released national BJD framework document. If adopted deregulation could be in place by early 2016.


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  1. John Gunthorpe, 30/11/2015

    You might be a bit wide of the mark Mike. Don’s son Harry Lawson moved 1800 elite-genetics females over to your state some years ago now in part to remove them from MAP testing knowing they would be free of BJD in WA but exposed to false positives in his home state of Victoria. Lawson’s Angus is one of the largest suppliers of Angus seed stock in Australia and now has bull sales in WA, Victoria and Queensland. Recently Lawson’s Angus joined with Central Meats (operators of the Shark Lake abattoir near Esperance) to purchase the Joanna Plains property of 9,500 ha north of Perth to expand their activities in the BJD free state of WA.
    So I don’t think you could say Lawson’s Angus are Easterners or that their family has an interest much beyond your own, Mike.

    Bonnydale Simmentals enjoy a good reputation and I see some of your stud’s commercial clients in Central Queensland got Reserve Champion Grassfed Carcase for 3 steers at this year’s Central Queensland Carcase Classic. So you seem happy enough to market your progeny into our state.
    It is also disappointing to see that you are denying your WA commercial clients the opportunity to purchase breeding stock from the east when they could be sourced at much reduced cost.

    Your WA clients were keen to send truckloads of animals to the East when you were in the grip of the drought. I know because we purchased some knowing them to be free of BJD.

    Do something for me Mike. Get on the net and read about BJD. Read the MLA report that placed the disease at the bottom of the diseases beef producers should be concerned about. It is the last disease on which MLA should be spending grassfed levies researching or defending in our overseas markets.

    Find out about the nature of the disease and how difficult it is to detect and therefore test for. Biosecurity starts on the farm and it is your PIC number the Australian government will seek out if you are looking to move stock overseas – not your state or your region. Then read about how the most common method of communicating BJD to beef cattle today is from sheep. WA sheep have OJD and it is considered endemic. If cattle graze on land with sheep or where sheep have grazed, then they will be exposed to contracting BJD. Wild animals also carry the Johnes virus. I am sure WA have some deer, camels, kangaroos, pigs etc. all which could introduce beef cattle to contracting BJD.

    If after reading this material you are still convinced that your stud is free from BJD, pull out your oldest girls and run them up the race, get samples of their excrement and send it off to a lab for testing. Hopefully you will not pull a false positive but if you do get ready to make a career change.
    Over 20,000 animals in Queensland were tested on over 250 properties because they purchased bulls from studs just like yours. They were seeking genetic gain in their commercial herd just like your clients. There was not one case of BJD found in all these tests but all properties were quarantined as “suspect” and they all had their income stopped but the costs continued. Many became bankrupt and all lost considerable money.
    Under the present SDR&Gs under the National Johnes Plan, if you were to find BJD from testing your old females, all your clients would be treated the same as these Queensland producers. Would you be able to suffer this pain? Would you be prepared to inflict this disastrous economic outcome on your loyal clients? All for a disease that costs Australia $2.85 million per annum in lost production.

    Stop using BJD as a marketing tactic to close your herd in WA. You are not free of BJD. If you think you are then start testing to prove it. According to WA’s CVO, there have been no tests of BJD in WA for 12 years. Also make sure the members of WA’s beef industry are ready to pay into a Biosecurity Fund to compensate all those thrown into quarantine for being “suspect” of BJD. They will take up to 2 years to clear quarantine even if they do not have the disease on their property. The stress caused to families and communities is unnecessary. To experience your wife crying herself to sleep at night over the financial impact of the quarantine is enough to question your worth.
    Put BJD behind you and face reality Mike.

  2. Wallace Gunthorpe, 30/11/2015

    Mike,test all your herds and see how you go,FREE,you have to be kidding !
    Start with the cattle that are co grazing with OJD infected sheep flocks.
    Keep going down the path you are on and one day you will be looking for a Don Lawson to represent affected producers that will be going to the wall.

  3. Mike Introvigne, 27/11/2015

    I reply to Don Lawson’s claims made in this article. Don has a clear conflict of interest in wanting to open our border to BJD and it is purely a selfish reason aimed at allowing importation of his family’s bulls and no other reason. I don’t believe he has any real concern for our industry. WA has no need to import commercial cattle from the East particularly when the East is struggling for numbers. We in WA as professional cattle producers do not want to see the introduction of a disease which is currently undetected in this state. No amount of pontificating from Don or his followers will change our mind and we will fight tooth and nail to protect our industry and its future. You may try and every trick in the book Don but you are not going to change something in our state we don’t want changed. We are Western Australians and we wont be dictated to by upstarts from the East, you need to get that clear in your mind.

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