PERHAPS it hasn’t been sold terribly well, and the way it’s been rolled out has confused, but the new approach to managing Johne’s disease in cattle is arguably exactly what producers want.
It makes individual properties the point of control and does away with costly quarantining and zoning.
That old-style sort of regulated control inflicted plenty of pain on plenty of cattle operations.
In fact, Cattle Council of Australia’s animal health and biosecurity expert Justin Toohey goes as far as describing that regulated approach as ‘overkill’.
Industry studies have determined Johne’s sits way down at number 17 in the list of most important diseases in cattle production, he points out.
Mr Toohey gave an informative overview of the new system at the recent Yulgilbar Beef Expo and Forum, held on the Myer family’s Santa Gertrudis cattle property in Northern NSW and attended by around 500 producers.
Not one of them had a question for Mr Toohey following his presentation.
Several told Fairfax Media they believed it should be up to individual producers to keep Johne’s out of their herds and that there was no doubt the new framework was required in order to maintain our valuable overseas beef markets.
Calls and petitions for it to be abolished should be ignored, they said.
But talks such as Mr Toohey’s probably should have happened earlier, they felt.
Mr Toohey said the new framework, with its Johnes beef assurance score, or JBAS, was actually the result of 12 months of meetings involving veterinarians, government departments, producers, industry representatives, scientists and regulators.
He said those talks followed the well-known Johne’s incident involving a Queensland Brahman stud in 2012 that lead to 177 properties across the country being quarantined “at great pain to all.”
A lot of pressure was then put on industry and government to review what was being done around Johne’s in cattle, he said.
While the regulated approach may have been overkill, Mr Toohey said the issue was firstly that producers do need to be able to keep Johne’s out of their herds if they don’t have it.
Secondly, it does have an impact on live trade.
“It’s mentioned in nearly every live trade protocol we have,” he said.
Two major decisions came from the discussions.
The first was to deregulate and have industry run its own programs and the second was to see Johne’s as an overall disease.
“Prior to this, we were talking strains and saying they couldn’t cross over,” Mr Toohey explained.
“In fact, our studies show 30 per cent of infections in cattle in Victoria were sheep strains - there is clear scientific evidence the sheep strain can affect cattle.”
Voluntary tools to help producers manage the disease were developed, keeping in mind the
majority of beef herds in Australia don’t have it.
And JBAS was created.
It’s identical in looks to the dairy score, which has been running quite successfully for some years now, Mr Toohey said.
What threw a spanner in the works, however, was Western Australia and the Northern Territory’s decision to use JBAS as a entry level requirement into their jurisdiction, he said.
“We know that trade with cattle when it comes to JD is a herd-by-herd, or property-by-property issue,” Mr Toohey said.
“When overseas markets have JD mentioned in protocols, what they expect is the State Governments to certify properties, not zones or states.
“What WA and the NT have done, at the request of their industry organisations, is create a wall that encomapsses the entire state.
“Overseas markets don’t care about the State being free of JD. This is why it’s hard to understand why these two jurisdictions have done this.”
To give WA their due, they have now started a surveillance program to support their claim of freedom within their cattle, Mr Toohey said.
The bottom line?
“We just have to ride the storm and acknowledge they will only let JBAS 7 or 8 into their state,” he said.
- See Animal Health Australia’s frequently asked questions on JBAS: https://www.animalhealthaustralia.com.au/johnes-disease-frequently-asked-questions/