KIMBERLEY pastoralists are claiming a victory for common sense after a plan they put forward to manage Bovine Johnes Disease (BJD) was accepted by the Department of Agriculture and Food (DAFWA) at a meeting in Broome last Thursday.
The plan also means that WA will remain a BJD-free zone.
While many options were presented at a sometimes fiery meeting, discussions into the night and the next day eventually settled on a plan agreeable to both DAFWA and the pastoralists involved.
The plan means that the BJD management areas would be implemented, not on a regional basis, but on discrete management areas of infected or suspect status. These may include areas as small as a paddock provided they can be effectively isolated and independently audited and managed.
Initial discussions at the meeting centred around the impact the disease would have on cattle movements to the south of WA and to overseas markets, with confusion surrounding these impacts.
A team of DAFWA experts led by livestock industry director Kevin Chennell were continually asked as to what impact BJD would have on potential and existing markets, namely Indonesia.
Pastoralists were concerned that DAFWA had said Indonesia did not want BJD-infected cattle, but it admitted the country had accepted them.
But it was later discovered after another lengthy discussion that Indonesia would not accept BJD-infected cattle if they were showing 'clinical' signs.
But Victorian vet and livestock consultant Dr David Rendell addressed the room and said the disease was "insignificant"
He said no cattle in Australia, not just WA, had ever shown any 'clinical' signs of BJD.
But Dr Rendell also questioned whether it was even worth having a BJD-free status.
Only seven cases of BJD have ever been found in Australia, plus the most recent in the Kimberley.
"Sheep OJD spreads a whole lot worse than BJD in cattle," Dr Rendell said.
"The question is does being in a (BJD) free zone add a net benefit to producers and so far I don't think we have seen that."
The disease also has no impact on the quality of meat.
But despite what Dr Rendell told the audience, industry was keen to maintain its BJD-free status and the management plan was eventually settled on which DAFWA will now work towards implementing.
"WA remains a BJD-free zone," Mr Chennell said.
"Kimberley pastoralists support the maintenance of a free zone in WA currently
"There is no evidence to date that indicates the disease has spread in WA and tests are defining the risk that BJD has established in the Kimberley; this is clarifying and appears low."
Mr Chennell said the department had management plans for each of the five remaining effected properties that had received traced bulls.
He also said he expected at least two or three of those properties would be cleared within the next few weeks.
"These plans are being actioned and the aim is to allow movements of low risk cattle and define requirements for movement of cattle from restricted areas," he said.
"The one bull that has tested positive appeared healthy and there is no evidence to date of spread to the herd.
"That bull has been culled."
He said DAFWA was working closely with pastoralists to manage the situation and the meeting in Broome allowed the presentation and discussion of a lot of information on BJD and pastoralists were working on sound information.
Many pastoralists were concerned about the potential loss of live export boats to the Northern Territory over the BJD issue as movement restrictions were in place on a number of properties.
It was particularly worrying for Kimberley pastoralists because they were competing for the limited 238,000 head of cattle for Indonesia's import quota.
Pastoralist Jack Burton even said his cattle had more chance of getting hit by a truck than dying of BJD.
But Mr Chennell expected the live export trade from the Kimberley to proceed as normal.
Mr Chennell also acknowledged the great leadership displayed by the Kimberley pastoralists and said he appreciated the support they were providing.
A number of pastoralists had met the day before the scheduled public meeting to come up with a clear plan to take to DAFWA to manage the disease.
The pastoralist's group spokesperson Haydn Sale said it was a very good outcome.
"We stuck to our guns with what we wanted with our two options and then we met up with them on Friday morning again and they (DAFWA) pretty much came around to the second option we presented," Mr Sale said.
"So it can identify the areas the bull was found and work with the department to free up other properties around it.
"The movement restrictions will stay there and the rest of the properties will free up."
During the public meeting it was discussed how BJD was managed in Albany when it was found in the region in 2006.
The Albany property it was discovered on was destocked and DAFWA said it had confidence they had removed all the potentially infected cattle.
DAFWA estimated it cost $1 million to wipe out BJD in Albany, but it would cost $6-8 million to wipe it out in the Kimberley, while DAFWA chief veterinary officer Peter Morcombe said the department would not be confident they would eradicate the whole disease.
But Mr Sale said the department had come around on that issue.
"For example one station has property on both sides of the highway, and I know for a fact they have bulls on one side of the highway and not the other, so as long as they can make that case and prove that then it will be ok (to move cattle)," he said.
"It means that WA will remain BJD-free along with the rest of the State and those (five) areas are managed until they are either clear or if they get a reactor then they will have to destock and go through that process.
"It was a really productive meeting, there will be cattle moving in a week now.
"That's the result of the meeting and now hopefully they (DAFWA) can come through with it."