Dear Minister Joyce,
I write regarding the recent failed attempt to deregulate Johnes disease, and request you urgently establish a judicial inquiry into this failure.
Questions must be answered about the ridiculous amount of time and cost to both industry and tax payers that have been spent on a disease that has been conclusively proven to have very little financial impact.
Why has Animal Health Australia persisted running a market assurance program (MAP) with a scientifically doubtful test that has such a devastating impact on individuals who receive a false positive test result?
How does the MAP help the cattle industry manage the disease when only about 320 herds have participated out of 10,000 beef cattle studs and as many as 200,000 large and small commercial herds?
These questions must be answered urgently.
To quote a real life situation: we are aware of a cow from which two samples were taken simultaneously.
One sample was sent to a laboratory in Victoria, the other to NSW.
One came back positive and the other negative. This further reinforces why those of us in the beef industry have absolutely no confidence in this farcical situation.
The 2015 MLA survey of 17 beef cattle diseases established that Johnes disease had the lowest economic impact of all the diseases studied.
It has taken nearly 15 years to establish the estimated loss to the Australian beef industry from Johnes, just $2.8 million per annum.
The report also states “Diagnostic tests have inadequate sensitivity to detect infected individuals”. The real damage is the fact the test regularly produces false positives.
MLA has also drawn attention to “The persistence of the organism in the environment, and especially water can negate animal movement”. This fact has been confirmed in the UK from studies of rivers in Waleswhere wildlife is suggested as the source.
Regardless of the strain (ovine, bison or bovine) Johnes is now classified as one disease.
This raises an important question regarding the actions of WA, which claims to be Johnes free. In fact they have the endemic sheep strain, and the former chief veterinarian stated at a BJD review in Perth that WA had not tested for it for 10 or more years.
The rest of Australia has basically de-regulated, but to sell cattle to WA they must be tested with a test that is scientifically unreliable and inaccurate.
The formal judicial inquiry should also look at how WA has been allowed to retain its JD-free status, and thus use it as an effective trade barrier within Australia.
There have been two Senate inquiries and one Victorian government inquiry into Johnes, and incredibly, the latest review has failed to deregulate Johnes and hand back its management to farmers.
The tragic social cost has been enormous - just look at the consequences of three cattle at the Rockley Brahman stud in QLD which caused about 160 herds across northern Australia to be quarantined.
One individual had 100pc equity in his farm and was sold up by his bank as he had no cash flow for three years.
A false positive has a catastrophic impact on studs as bull sales can be put on hold, and hard won reputations trashed overnight.
It is impossible to identify how many families have been utterly devastated as the authorities hide behind the privacy act.
A former state minister of agriculture lost their father as a direct result of the Johnes debacle. Dozens of suicides can be directly attributed to the catastrophic effect of Johnes.
These issues have been raised countless times in many different forums.
We implore you to act and finally bring this sorry state of affairs to an end, and act on our request for a judicial inquiry.
Don Lawson, OAM