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BJD unity essentia

The architect of a scientific test that is helping to free beef producers from bovine Johne’s disease (BJD) quarantine says the industry must unite around a common goal if they are to have any chance of eradicating the outbreak. The University of Sydney’s Professor Richard Whittington, who developed the PCR test that has helped accelerate testing for BJD throughout Queensland since the outbreak last November, said it was “technically feasible” to eradicate the disease if industry unity was maintained. His call comes as producers, led by outspoken Victorian Angus breeder Don Lawson and former Australian Beef Association president Linda Hewitt, plan a rally at cattle king Graeme Acton’s Paradise Lagoons complex near Rockhampton on March 4. Mr Lawson, who has been a fierce critic of the beef industry led BJD eradication plan, said the event was an open forum where all management strategies would be discussed. “It’s time we got everyone together and got all of the information out there that can be explained in farmer friendly language,” he said. “For that reason everyone is invited.” The Australian Brahman Breeders’ Association, which has also backed away from supporting the eradication plan, will be represented at the rally by chief executive John Croaker, who will speak on “practicalities for stud breeders”. Cattle Council of Australia, which has maintained consistent support for eradication to preserve Queensland’s valued protected status under the national BJD management framework, has confirmed new CEO Jed Matz will attend, as will a senior Commonwealth advisor to Federal Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig. At the time of going to press, eradication supporter AgForce and Biosecurity Queensland, were yet to confirm if they would attend. Plans of the rally come as another 20 beef cattle properties will be freed from bovine Johne’s disease this week, as announced by Biosecurity Queensland last Thursday. But the good news has been tempered with details that another property has tested positive to the cattle wasting disease, bringing the total number of infected properties to four since the BJD outbreak was confirmed near Rockhampton last November. Chief biosecurity officer Jim Thompson said the latest confirmed infection was detected using the new PCR faecal test being handled out of the Elizabeth Macarthur Agricultural Institute near Sydney. “Initial information indicates that this latest property sends most of its stock to slaughter, and there may only be a small number of further trace forward properties that may require movement restrictions. This is being confirmed,” Dr Thompson said. Dr Thompson said that with the release of the 20 properties, the current number of properties under movement restrictions would drop to below 100. “Obviously this figure may increase again if more positive results are received and more trace forward properties identified, but for now, we are taking this reduction as a positive sign,” he said. “These new developments demonstrate that our processes are working – test results are being received faster and where possible properties are being released.” Dr Thompson said Biosecurity Queensland staff would be contacting relevant owners as soon as possible to notify them if their movement restrictions had been lifted. “While this is positive news, we need to remember that we still have a long way to go in this response,” he said. “BJD is a difficult disease to test for and manage and while results to date have been encouraging, there may be further positive results as we continue this testing program. “As I have said previously, we are committed to working with industry to ensure Queensland’s protected status for BJD remains intact.” The government’s momentum has received cautious praise from PCR test creator Professor Richard Whittington, who is confident authorities are using the best science available, despite some concerns held by some that acting on the evidence of the PCR test alone might be premature before the definitive culture test results are known next month. “It depends very much on individual property circumstances and I couldn’t comment without that information. It depends on the number of animals tested, whether the animals were from the source of the outbreak or how long they might have been exposed for – every property is unique,” he said. “They (Biosecurity Queensland) would have had very good reasons and strong evidence to pass back to property owners because there is a very large group of people involving experts from other states in Australia who are contributing to the response – they are the national brains trust. “This is being watched very closely throughout Australia. It is the largest outbreak of Johne’s that has ever been seen outside of the endemic area of southern Australia. It is of huge national importance because of Queensland’s unique position – along with WA – of having little to Johne’s disease in its herd.” Prof. Whittington said the outbreak was a “wake-up call” to the national industry. “It has to be considered as a potential impediment to trade and accordingly has to be managed carefully through the Commonwealth department of agriculture,” he said. “The beef industry nationally really has to view Johne’s as a giant sleeping issue. “For beef producers in Queensland, WA and the Northern Territory it was once something they didn’t have to worry about every day until this outbreak occurred. But that only underscores why all beef producers need to look at this very seriously because they have a valued status to preserve. “This is being done very well at the government level, but it really counts at individual, producer level. “Beef producers must take responsibility for their own biosecurity by working with cattle veterinarians and other animal health professionals to ensure they do not put themselves at risk of buying in stock that have Johne’s or other diseases. “The disease has been successfully eradicated from individual properties in southern Australia through early detection, widespread testing and ongoing monitoring. This can be achieved on properties in Queensland but it will take individual risk assessments, laboratory testing and follow up action that will take years. “It is technically feasible to do that. However, it becomes very difficult to achieve this when the industry fragments around a crisis like this. “It is very important that people stay level headed and sign on to the benefits of a collective response. There is a lot of harm that can be done by knee-jerk reactions.” Australian Veterinary Association president Dr Ben Gardiner has also urged industry to stay the course. “It is still too early to be making decisions on whether the response should change direction. Mid March, when the results of the slower, culture tests become available, will give authorities the information they need to make firm decisions about this,” he said. “To make a decision on preserving Queensland’s protected status and then to think you have sufficient information to change your mind on that is very ill-conceived.”

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