ONLY a handful of beef studs have opted to invest in obtaining the highest assurance level under the new framework for managing Johne’s disease.
With the window to conduct the first laboratory tests to maintain a Johne’s Beef Assurance Score (J-BAS) of 7 or 8 closing on June 30, it appears the majority of East Coast seedstock operations will drop back, or stay sitting on, a J-BAS 6.
The higher level requires a check test carried out on samples from 50 animals within the herd, collected by a veterinarian, which is repeated every three years.
Because the new system is deregulated, no figures are officially collected but there is widespread agreement across breed societies, government bodies, producer groups and the veterinary game that less than 2pc of studs will remain J-BAS 7 or 8.
Of the 94 vendors at the recent Herefords Australia Wodonga sale and the upcoming Dubbo National, both of which have an entry requirement of J-BAS 6 or above, only 31 per cent were J-BAS 7 and 6pc J-BAS 8.
Alex McDonald, the Australian Registered Cattle Breeders Association’s representative on Cattle Council of Australia’s animal health, welfare and biosecurity advisory committee, said most operations looking to retain a 7 or 8 score will have already organised testing.
The main reason to secure the higher end score is to sell into Western Australia, which has stipulated an entry level of 7 for Queensland and Northern Territory producers or 8 for southern studs.
There would be a number of Queensland studs looking to retain their bull trade into the Kimberley region which would seek to be at least J-BAS 7, Mr McDonald said.
There may also be herds who have already invested significantly to get to an 8 wanting to demonstrate an extremely low risk of Johne’s infection who see value in continuing on that path.
“But the reality is the need for southern WA herds to buy bulls in the East and transport is fairly low,” he said.
The drop-out to J-BAS 6 was expected, he said.
Those supplying the live heifer export market were also not at a disadvantage being on J-BAS 6, he said.
“There is no overseas protocol based on J-BAS. The most common protocol is a declaration of no known Johne’s disease for the last five years,” he said.
“It is unlikely markets will want more than that. Nearly every market we export breeding females to has endemic Johne’s anyway.”
For NSW Poll Hereford breeders Ian and Diana Locke, Wirruna at Holbrook, the decision to invest in a J-BAS 8 score has been around keeping marketing doors open.
Wirruna sent 51 animals, including breeding cows, to WA from its March sale.
“Selling into WA is a growing part of our business,” Mr Locke said.
“We’ve had a long term commitment to having quality assurance, particularly with regards to Johne’s.
“That does come at a cost. It restricts our ability to trade cattle easily or send cattle away on agistment and the options are declining even more now.
“I have questioned over the years whether I should be at this status and can understand other seedstock businesses staying at 6 but for us it has created opportunities, ones that are more obvious now than five or ten years ago.”
Some stud owners said the risk of false positives had influenced their decision to stay J-BAS 6 but authorities say faecal culture or HT-J (high throughput-Johne’s polymerase chain reaction) tests are what should now be used, rather than the Elisa blood test which delivers a 1 to 2pc false positive result.
HT-J tests, relatively new technology, are highly unlikely to produce false positives.
Animal Health Australia says the use of the Elisa test is disallowed for some markets, including WA, and discouraged for other markets because of its lower accuracy.
Underpinning the J-BAS system is the need for a on-farm biosecurity plan.
“It’s all about trying to keep our beef export markets open and having a mandated requirement for on-farm biosecurity has got to be a big plus in terms of demonstrating our disease freedom in Australia,” Mr McDonald said.
The new national approach to JD management treats the disease as just one of many that producers must manage within their business.
It gives producers more control over their productivity and profitability by allowing them to be responsible for biosecurity.
An on-farm biosecurity plan is a requirement for the Livestock Production Assurance (LPA) program.
The LPA is Australia’s on-farm assurance program covering food safety, animal welfare and biosecurity and is managed by Meat and Livestock Australia’s Integrity Systems Company, which is now systematically contacting every existing LPA member to discuss biosecurity plans.
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