THE Queensland government’s plan to eradicate bovine Johne's disease (BJD) from the State has come under question at a Rockhampton forum run by the Australian Beef Association (ABA).
About 200 beef producers heard Australian Johnes Alliance representative and forum organiser Don Lawson - a Victorian stud Angus breeder - describe the disease as "insignificant", despite the recent government push to preserve Queensland's BJD protected status.
The BJD outbreak was detected on a Central Queensland stud last November, forcing 171 properties initially into quarantine. Currently 71 are still quarantined, says Biosecurity Queensland.
Mr Lawson, a critic of the eradication plan, said the real issue with the outbreak was policy, not the actual disease. He said eradication of BJD was impossible for a number of reasons.
"There is no reliable test for the disease and no cure. The blood tests only identify about half the animals infected and the faecal test only detects the disease when the animal is shedding," he said.
Mr Lawson said the only exit strategy was to hand the disease management back to producers.
"The industry needs to undertake an eradication cost-benefit study, because you don't spend $100,000 on one sheep with fly strike," he said.
Veterinarian and University of Melbourne consultant John Webb Ware said BJD eradication was difficult and production impacts were minimal. He said the financial impact of control programs could spell the end of some businesses, and the threat would still remain.
"If we go down the eradication path, despite our best intentions and huge financial costs, infected herds will remain in Queensland and leave us vulnerable to future disease outbreaks," he said.
Australian Brahman Breeders Association (ABBA) general manager John Croaker said the financial and emotional cost to some of his members in the wake of the BJD trace-forward operation was immense. He reconfirmed ABBA's position that BJD should be a producer-managed disease.
ABA chair Brad Bellinger presented a resolution that a committee be formed to provide advice and do research into a practical BJD policy, and said the forum achieved the aims of “informing producers on the pitfalls of pursuing an eradication program and allowing them to see BJD in a less fearful light”.
Speakers from AgForce, Cattle Council and Federal Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig’s office confirmed their commitment to an eradication plan, designed to protect export markets.
State Agriculture Minister John McVeigh will hold an official stakeholder meeting in Brisbane on March 26 to announce the direction of the government's BJD plan based on lab test results and the outcome of an independent review headed by former AgForce president Brent Finlay.