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Should individual producers carry the costs of protecting the broader industry?

James Nason, 08/08/2014
Ashley Kirk, Rockley Brahman Stud, Bajool. Picture: Kent Ward, KB Consulting, http://kentbward.com/

Ashley Kirk, Rockley Brahman Stud, Bajool. Picture: Kent Ward, KB Consulting, http://kentbward.com/

When small family farming operations are forced to destroy valuable herds in order to protect the wider industry from a disease, particularly one of debatable consequence, who should pay?

Consider this: A family-run cattle stud finds three sick cows and “does the right thing” by reporting the sick animals to authorities.

Tests identify Bovine Johne’s Disease (BJD) as the cause, and the stud and 170 of its clients are placed into immediate quarantine.

All are prevented from moving cattle off their properties despite worsening drought, and for many the restrictions will remain in place for up to four more years until their properties can be formally cleared of the disease.

The family operation at the centre of the detection is then required to slaughter most of its valuable breeding cattle, stud genetics that have taken 60 years of careful selection to produce.

These measures are required under an eradication policy set by State Government and cattle industry leaders designed to protect the remaining 19,000 cattle producers across the state from being exposed to the same disease.

At the time, the State premier and agriculture minister provide an assurance that no individual producer will be expected to bear the cost of eradication programs that benefit the entire cattle industry.

20 months later, that clearly hasn’t happened.

Families such as Chris and Sally Kirk and their son Ashley at Rockley Brahman Stud near Bajool, the stud at the centre of the initial November 2012 detection, are still “holding the can” for the industry’s disease response and shouldering enormous personal and financial costs in the name of protecting the broader industry.

Put aside for a moment the clearly immense emotional toll such an experience involves and focus instead just on the financial costs their family operation has endured, or at least those that can be easily measured.

First it is important to explain that in January 2013 the Queensland Government announced a $5 million fund to assist producers directly affected by the BJD control and eradication effort. The plan was to establish a Biosecurity fund on July 1, 2014 which would be grown over time through producer contributions to a voluntary levy (producers who do not pay would forgo the right to assistance from the fund in the event of an outbreak). However, more than a year and a half later, the biosecurity levy has yet to materialise, largely because of the additional pressures on producer incomes caused by drought, and the fund has not grown.

Before the Kirks could apply for assistance from the $5 million fund, they were required to sign a Property Disease Eradication Plan, which also meant agreeing to slaughter most of their stud cattle to assist the eradication effort.

An independent appraisal completed earlier this year placed the value of the stud bulls, cows and heifers that the Kirks were required to slaughter in the first year after the detection at almost $1.2 million, minus their meatworks value.

That independently-prepared appraisal was used to support a claim by the Kirks for assistance from the $5m package earlier this year. (Since that appraisal was conducted, the Kirks have been forced to destroy a similar number of cattle, meaning that if they lodged another claim today, it would be for close to the same amount as the first).

In response, the Kirks have been approved to receive just $100,000 in assistance.

From all indications, that is all the assistance they can now expect to receive from Government or industry as a result of their ordeal, or for future losses.

It is important to remember here that the Kirks have done nothing wrong.

A copy of a Qld Govt media release stating that no producer should bear the cost of protecting the broader industry.

A copy of a Qld Govt media release stating that no producer should bear the cost of protecting the broader industry. Click on picture to view in larger format.

In fact they have endured these costs for “doing the right thing” by reporting the sick cattle in the first place, a decision that has pushed their successful, respected Brahman stud breeding operation to its knees in the name of protecting the vast majority of cattle producers from BJD, all for the “greater good”.

The experience has already cost them millions of dollars and the costs are ongoing. At some point in coming years the Kirks will face the daunting task of trying to re-build their Brahman stud selling business beneath the shadow and stigma of BJD. The threat of quarantine is still very real.

Overlapping this issue is the broader question about whether BJD actually poses a large enough threat to herd productivity or market access to warrant the enormous costs involved in trying to eradicate it, and whether its endemic existence in other animal species means that eradication is an achievable goal at all.

A number of scientists and veterinarians have argued that BJD as a disease is “inconsequential” in most herds. A Queensland Department of Agriculture analysis in January this year estimated the economic impact of BJD in an average sized beef herd of 575 cows would total just $259 per annum. Further, if 5pc of all Queensland herds became infected with BJD by 2043, the report estimated that the annual cost to industry would be $258,000. This for a disease that has so far cost the Queensland Government and affected producers an estimated $50m under existing control and eradication efforts, according to the same Qld DAFF report.

The Kirks also point out that the disease is now believed to have been in their herd for more than 20 years, with an imported US bull put down due to wasting in the early 1990s the likely initial source. Apart from the sickness they noticed in three older cows in 2012 which sparked the multi-million dollar control program, the Kirks say the disease has caused negligible problems in the Rockley herd.

Opponents of the current policy also make the point that BJD is endemic in nearly every country of the world, including all of Australia’s major export markets. Under World Trade Organisation rules, it is illegal for a country to impose a trading restriction for a disease also present in the importing country.

At the same time, industry leaders argue that if an opportunity exists to control and eradicate the disease it should be seized while that opportunity exists, to prevent exposing every producer in the state to future BJD impacts, the additional costs of preventative measures such as on-farm vaccinations and potential market access risks.

Regardless of where people stand on the question of whether BJD should be controlled and eradicated or deregulated and left to producers to manage, one point most seem to agree on is that the producers who are currently shouldering the costs of protecting the broader industry should be fairly compensated for their losses.

The Kirks are one of dozens of producers currently carrying that cost. At the centre of a second unrelated BJD detection that occurred in Queensland last year, producer Peter Naylor at Hollins Bay near Marlborough has been forced to destock 4000 cows. The maximum $100,000 assistance payment available would not even pay the cost of transporting those cattle to abattoirs.

Qld premier Campbell Newman and agriculture minister John McVeigh got it exactly right when they said no individual producer should bear the cost of eradication efforts that benefit all of industry. Its time to ensure that assurance is upheld.

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Comments

  1. Tom Campbell, 11/08/2014

    Thank you James for your support shown to the victims of this mess that we have been left with . We need good people like you to support us all kind regards
    Tom Campbell
    Taroom

  2. don lawson, 11/08/2014

    Well done Beef Central, your investigative reporting will help bring the end to this sorry event in australian ag’s history.

    I feel sorry for minister Mc Veigh who has been led up the garden path by his own vets and AgForce to then mislead producers that they would receive adequate compensation his credentials have been damaged as a result of there advice.

    We sure need an independent cost benefit the terms of reference overseen by independent vets at the McKinnon Group and done by someone with expertise in this field from New Zealand otherwise it will be seen as another cover up.

    Better still we need a minister with some common sense and courage to see through this fraudulent program and hand it back to produces to manage.

    johnes is a management issue for high rainfall intensive grazing producers as is the case with lepto and pesti virus

    WE HAVE BEEN PROMISED A BJD VACCINE FOR YEARS WHERE IS IT

  3. Geoff Maynard, 11/08/2014

    I agree that ,we as an industry and government , should compensate the individual families and businesses adequately for their loss . It is not fair , that some individuals bear the full economic brunt , whilst most of us trade unhindered .

  4. Wallace Gunthorpe, 08/08/2014

    Thank you James for a very truthful summary of the BJD situation.
    We have been calling for complete compensation from the outset and it is about time Minister McVeigh and AgForce did the right thing by affected producers.
    No more excuses and no more spin,treat these people properly.
    We all know right from wrong and this is wrong to treat people in such a shabby manner to benefit others in the industry!
    Thank you again James,this story should never be allowed to disappear from the media.

  5. Alex McDonald, 08/08/2014

    An excellent article which clearly outlines the injustice of the way that Bovine Johnes disease in Australia and the complete lack of appetite for the beef industry to provide reasonable compensation to those breeders who through no fault of their own have their businesses threatened by quarantining their herds for the claimed good of the whole beef industry. There needs to be an open and honest risk based cost benefit analysis of the current National BJD Management Program

  6. John Gunthorpe, 08/08/2014

    Well said James. We totally agree and ask that Ash and his family and all the others unfairly impacted by this travesty be fairly compensated NOW. Deregulation of BJD management control is also needed to prevent other beef producers suffering a similar fate. BJD has minimal production loss, cannot be eradicated and is difficult to detect with unreliable testing. No exports of cattle or beef are on any way impacted by BJD. These arguments are scandalist furphys from minister McVeighs office. Thank James for your story.

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