DEMAND for clarity in dealing with Bovine Johne's Disease (BJD) has prompted Animal Health Australia (AHA) to bring forward a review of BJD management by a year.
BJD of livestock is inadequately understood, management options are limited, and the disease’s economic impacts on livestock producers can appear randomly and unjustly distributed.
All this adds up to a hot potato of an issue, especially when the concept of BJD exclusion zones is added to the mix.
The current National BJD Control Program has, with tweaks, served its purpose relatively well since the late Nineties.
But now, “there is a groundswell of requests from producers and State governments that we start looking at how we deal with BJD in the future,” said Duncan Rowland, AHA’s executive manager, biosecurity services.
“So the management committee has decided to bring the review forward by a financial year.”
“Five years ago when the Strategic Plan was developed, there was a thought that yes, we should be trying to control this disease - and rightly so at that time.”
“Things have changed. People are now saying that they don’t agree that we should be trying to control it, that they have far more important diseases to deal with on declining budgets. How do we deal with this in a strategic way?”
Justin Toohey, Cattle Council of Australia’s animal health, welfare and biosecurity advisor, added that there is a widespread view that the current program, which relies heavily on zoning generally along jurisdictional lines plus various forms of regulatory intervention, “is unsustainable from a financial and social viewpoint”.
The review will formally begin on February 16, when on behalf of the National BJD Steering Committee, AHA is convening a one-day forum in Sydney to shake some of the issues onto the table.
The first part of the day will be dedicated to updating current understanding the disease and its challenges.
“We know that we have diagnostic issues, issues around the impact of the different cattle, sheep and bison strains on management, issues with trade and market access and the economics of controlling BJD at farm level,” Mr Rowland said.
Pharmaceutical company Zoetis is also close to releasing the results of its trials of a BJD vaccine, Silirum. Mr Rowland hopes an update on the trials will be given at the forum.
The remainder of the day will be thrown open for beef producers, seedstock producers and State governments - and anyone else with an interest in the issue - to have their say on potential management strategies.
Producers, seedstock producers, State and Territory governments all want to have a say.
The day after the forum, AHA will put together a cross-section of attendees to commit the findings of the day to paper. This will be released for public comment.
“This will be an iterative process,” Mr Rowland said. “We’re looking at three rounds of paper-comment-paper-comment, so we can refine the process and come up with something that will meet the requirements of as many people as possible”.
“We’re never going to meet the expectations of everyone,” he added.
People who wish to attend the forum, to be held at Rydges Sydney Airport Hotel, should register with AHA by January 30 by emailing their interest to Animal Health Australia.
Brief submissions will also be accepted ahead of the forum and can be emailed to the same address.
More information on the review is available on the AHA website.