NEW England producers have backed the new national Ovine Johne’s Disease management plan and last week became the first area to submit a regional biosecurity plan to become a protected area.
Despite this, Sheepmeat Council of Australia and WoolProducers Australia this week bowed to public pressure to delay the introduction of the plan by six months, to July 1, 2013.
Much of this public dissension flowed from an Australian Wool Innovation-hosted forum in Sydney last month, which passed a number of motions including one to indefinitely delay the plan and another to revoke it entirely.
New England producer Katrina Blomfield, Karori Merinos, Walcha, has lambasted the forum as an “orchestrated meeting” organised to “push a point of view”.
Mrs Blomfield urged the sheep industry to back the proposed new national plan and stop the spread of the “insidious” OJD for as long as possible.
The new plan proposes to replace the previous scheme with just two areas; control and protected, with trade restricted between the two. To be eligible to be a protected area, producers would need prevalence of less than one per cent.
Mrs Blomfield queried the motives of AWI in hosting the forum.
“Who are they representing? I would like to think that (AWI) wouldn’t be behind a scheme which spreads an insidious disease across our industry,” she said.
“I think it was an orchestrated meeting to push a point of view. I don’t think it was a fair representation of all producers, I think it was a forum of the people that are making the most noise.”
AWI has previously justified holding the forum – held in Sydney and attended by about 100 people last month – with a spokesman saying it sought legal advice before going ahead.
Mrs Blomfield said the people calling for the proposed national OJD management plan to be scrapped needed to question whether – if they had a choice – they would want the disease on their property.
Motions were passed at the AWI forum to revoke the proposed national plan in one case, and indefinitely delay it in another.
“We’ve asked ourselves that question and we don’t want it. We don’t want to be in a prevalent area and we don’t want to have it,” she said.
“I know that producers that have OJD have been economically affected, and that’s really sad for them, but that is no reason to then say everyone should have it.
“I don’t think that is a valid thought process.”
In the New England, 67 per cent of producers who responded to a Livestock Health and Pest Authority (LHPA) survey last year voted in favour of maintaining their previous exclusion area status.
The Blomfields were one of the first studs to join the market assurance program in 1997, and Mrs Blomfield said all producers should try to limit the spread of OJD.
“We have to do a management plan, we have to test sheep every year but we think we should make an effort to not get OJD because we don’t want it,” she said.
“Why is it that we as farmers are not prepared to practice good scientific risk-based assessment and practice good animal health?”
Wollomombi producer and New England OJD Advisory Committee chairman David Moen, “Chandler”, said he believed the committee had a mandate on behalf of sheep producers in the New England LHPA to protect the area for as long as possible from OJD.
“At the moment we’ve got 1600 sheep flocks in the New England LHPA and there is no known infection, which is quite amazing,” said Dr Moen, a veterinarian.
“We’re still wondering how that can be, but all the work over the last 15 years... has shown this to be true.
“The philosophy of our little committee is to keep it out of the New England as long as we can.”
Dr Moen said “misinformation” had been spread in the debate about the proposed national OJD management plan. He said the calls for deregulation were unfounded, as the only regulation which would exist in NSW under the proposed scheme was the sheep health statement, regulated by the Fair Trade Act.
“It’s against the law to fill out the sheep health statement incorrectly,” he said.
Dr Moen made no bones about the fact the New England was proud of its status as being OJD-free, and said he wanted that maintained.
“Good biosecurity, in other words risk management, begins at the farm gate,” he said.
“People can bring sheep into the New England if they wish – it’s not illegal to bring in sheep with a high level of infection – but New Englanders aren’t because they’re practising good biosecurity.
“That’s the critical issue; people get risk management by farmers in the New England mixed up with regulation by the State government.
“It’s an awful piece of misinformation.”
Dr Moen said the proposed national management plan was a "good compromise” which had been undermined at the “eleventh hour”.
“There is only a month to go before the program (was due to start) and they’re trying to derail it,” he said.
“I find it a bit strange when they’ve had plenty of time to talk to the folk who have been putting it together.”
Dr Moen said in the past he had been verbally abused for his strong position on OJD however, while reports of bullying against producers in the New England have emerged, Glen Innes producer Archie Cameron, Kalanga Poll Dorsets, said he had not encountered this.
Mr Cameron attended the AWI forum in Sydney last month and spoke out against the motions against the proposed national plan.
“I was one of the few, you might say, dissenting voices to the voting there and I did stand up and state my piece,” he said.
“They didn’t necessarily agree with me... (but) I didn’t get any flak from that.”