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Final push to agree on OJD

NSW sheep industry leaders will gather in Sydney on Monday in a last-ditch attempt to find common ground on the contentious issue of Ovine Johne’s Disease (OJD) management. After months of bitter debate among sheep producers, Sheepmeat Council of Australia (SCA) and WoolProducers Australia (WPA) last month released a discussion paper proposing key changes to its revised national management plan, originally due to come into effect from January this year. The start date of the revised plan has now been pushed back to July, however it remains to be seen whether producers will be able to make concessions and agree to a national plan to manage the polarising disease. NSW Farmers wool committee chairman Ed Storey, who is also a director of WPA, said Monday’s meeting would be a chance to consult with producers about why the discussion paper had headed in the direction it had. A key change proposed in the discussion paper was the removal of the intention to establish control and protected areas to limit the spread of the disease, as the Counil of Chief Vet Officers and individual States refused to be involved in the approval process. Instead, the discussion paper now proposes putting the onus back on individual growers and States to deliver a regional approach to control through regional biosecurity plans. “We needed a body to (approve protected areas) – we couldn’t just have someone ticking off on their own protected area status,” Mr Storey said. “(State governments) weren’t willing to be a part of the approval process. And it was only approving them against a set of protocols and standards that were going to be developed, to give them some clout and allow as much free trade as possible. “Despite what some people think, this program was developed to allow as much legitimate trade as possible.” Mr Storey said the meeting in Sydney on Monday was invite-only, but would include a wide cross-section of producers with differing views from across NSW. “The wool and sheepmeat committees of NSW Farmers are trying to provide a bit of leadership on the issue, to get the key stakeholders in NSW together and take them along with us with any changes to the program,” he said. “It doesn’t achieve anything having a really antagonistic debate through the papers and the media about an internal sheep industry issue. “There was extensive consultation in the past year, but perhaps people weren’t engaged with the issue. “I put it to you that they’re now engaged. “I’m not promising that everyone is going to come out of next Monday’s meeting agreeing – they haven’t agreed for the last 15 years.” Mr Storey said OJD was a “difficult policy area” but urged producers to contribute to the public consultation period by making a submission on the discussion paper. He said while producers in Queensland and South Australia largely agreed on limiting the spread of the disease, and Victorian and Tasmanian producers were pushing for deregulation, NSW not only had the largest sheep flock in the country, it also had the widest variety of views. “NSW has every different opinion under the sun,” he said. Mr Storey said for a national plan to be successful, it needed to be supported by producers. “In agriculture sometimes one of our greatest failings is to expect institutions or governments or someone else to sort out our problems for us,” he said. “OJD, being an endemic disease in this country, if you feel it is a risk to your business, come up with a plan to reduce that risk. “If you want to deal with those risks on a regional basis you’re entitled to, but it needs to stand up to scrutiny.”

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