Do you need to test for Johne’s?

James Nason, 18/10/2017

CATTLE producers are being reminded they do not need to test their herd for Johne’s disease unless they are trading specifically into a market that requires a test.

If in doubt, producers should make their own inquiries with their State Department of Agriculture before engaging their vet to organise testing.

Chair of Cattle Council of Australia’s Animal Health and Biosecurity Committee, Melinee Leather, said every producer has a responsibility to meet the requirements of the market they are supplying and should check each market’s specific requirements themselves.

Ms Leather, a producer for Central Queensland, said producers might wish to adopt the voluntary JD Beef Assurance Score (JBAS) tool.

“If for any reason producers want their herds to be JBAS 7 or 8 and accept the need for testing, that’s their choice.

“For other producers, if they’re not required to test their cattle for market-access reasons, they don’t need to test and can call their herd JBAS 6 provided conditions are met, like completing a simple on-farm biosecurity plan, which is now needed for LPA accreditation anyway – just remember to fill out the optional question covering JD”, said Ms Leather.

As an example of market-access rules, Western Australia requires JBAS 7 status (for cattle from NT and Qld) plus herd testing for cattle entering the WA herd, but only JBAS 6 and no testing if the cattle are destined for slaughter or live export ports. (Conditions apply for JD and a range of diseases so sellers should check WA’s ‘LB1 form’.)

“Producers selling cattle for export through WA would still need to be fully aware of the testing needs of the market to which the cattle are being sent – again, check with the Department if in doubt”, said Ms Leather.

For producers testing their herd, there are three options: the cheap but unreliable ELISA test, the more expensive but more reliable PCR test and the definitive faecal culture test.

ELISA is used to test for antibodies in the blood, the PCR test finds DNA of the bacteria in faecal matter and the culture test is used to grow the live bacteria so its presence can be confirmed, which takes three months). Vets can provide further advice.

While the ELISA test is often chosen because of cost, it is known to produce significant false positives, especially in northern Australia, and so is not recommended unless demanded by the importing country. (Because of its unreliability, WA has excluded the ELISA test as an option for cattle entering the WA herd.)

Ms Leather said if you are a producer and you want to access export markets, you’d be wise to guard against JD entering your herd, and one of the best ways of doing this is by buying with care. JBAS is a voluntary tool to help producers pass on JD information to buyers who ask.

“Together with the Livestock Biosecurity Network, Cattle Council has organised over 20 industry workshops across Australia to provide a forum for producers to discuss the new requirements for LPA registration; an average of 200 producers have attended these workshops.

“It’s been clear that attendees could see the benefits from documenting their on-farm biosecurity practices, which takes very little time per year.

“I encourage any producers yet to fill out their on-farm biosecurity plan do so now. It is a simple tool for self-assessing current biosecurity practices and will go a long way in raising awareness of how important biosecurity is to our industry’s future,” Ms Leather said.



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  1. Paul Franks, 20/10/2017

    “To suggest producers deliberately ignore any disease in their cattle is irresponsible and totally against the principles of good biosecurity and animal care. ”

    In what way when it is reality. Look at all the diseases that affect cattle. Leptospirosis, Pestivirus, Vibriosis and how many producers actively vaccinate and test for them? Why would they treat BJD any differently? The whole BJD score system is laughable. Tick some boxes on a form and you are not even classed as suspected of having BJD. Not tick some boxes and you are automatically suspected of having it. I mean come on, that is just plain silly. You really should be either proven clean or suspected of having it.

    If a property owner were to notify authorities of an unusual death and investigations were to confirm BJD, their score would reduce to 0 and who would buy their cattle with a 0 score as under the biosecurity rules you are not supposed to introduce lower scored cattle into a herd. So you would effectively be severely restricted to your market. So with the choice being between potential bankruptcy and lower production. What would most people choose? Of course no one would admit they would do that. No one admits they would vote One Nation either.

  2. Melinee Leather, 19/10/2017

    To suggest producers deliberately ignore any disease in their cattle is irresponsible and totally against the principles of good biosecurity and animal care.

    And to say there is no accurate test is wrong. While little in life is guaranteed, the High-Throughput PCR test (that gives positive results if DNA of the bacteria is found) and the culture test (that gives positive results if the bacteria are grown) are both reliable against false positives. There are many experts who can advise.

    GATT (the formal ‘agreement’) hasn’t existed since December 1995. Taking the matter to the WTO (the formal ‘body’) through the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade would be far less likely to succeed than taking it to the international health organisation, the OIE, and also dealing bilaterally with our trading partners to change testing requirements listed in protocols; these we are doing through the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources.

    Such bureaucratic processes at the international level can take years. In the meantime, we have an obligation to take JD seriously. There are many countries around the world conducting voluntary or regulated control programs for JD, so we’d be foolish to ignore the disease in Australia.

    It’s no surprise the vast majority of producers don’t want JD in their herd because of its potential trade impact (note Japan shutting Australian access for four months last year) and our country’s reliance on livestock exports. It’s ridiculous to expect these producers to abandon any means of assessing the JD risks of cattle they are buying, particularly from people who advocate that it’s “better to sell to another market than test for JD…” J-BAS remains a useful voluntary tool for transferring JD information to buyers, helping the buyers to protect their herds against infection.

  3. John Gunthorpe, 19/10/2017

    No cattle producer should test for Johne’s disease. There is no accurate test for JD and no cure if the animal has JD. Better to sell to another market than test for JD to supply one that requires a test.

    It is time Australia took a case to GATT to argue that those nations that require a test for JD for breeding heifers should drop this requirement as JD is endemic in their cattle herd. Under GATT a nation cannot refuse entry for a disease if it is endemic in their own country.

    Unfortunately our industry leaders have failed us again by not promoting an argument for the Australian government to prosecute a case at GATT.

    The Australian Cattle Industry Council will today contact the Department of Foreign Affairs to ask that a case be initiated particularly against those countries requesting an Eliza test which results in many false positives.

    Perhaps Cattle Council could ask their Animal Health and Welfare Committee to also initiate an enquiry to the Department of Foreign Affairs. While they are discussing JD perhaps they could motivate Cattle Council to abandon J-BAS as it provides no benefit to our members and significant cost and additional red tape.

    John Gunthorpe

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