THE news that Chief Justice Tim Carmody at the Supreme Court of Queensland ruled in favour of Vanrook station’s appeal against the State of Queensland regarding quarantine restrictions placed on them as suspect carriers of the ‘cattle strain’ of Bovine Johne’s Disease (BJD) has created a maelstrom of activity from within the Queensland cattle industry.
Chief Justice Carmody ruled that there was insufficient proof that the cattle in question carried the ‘cattle strain’ of BJD, after it was successfully argued by Vanrook’s legal counsel Barry Taylor of Emanate Legal that the BJD management regulations relate only to ‘cattle strain’ and not the ‘bison strain’ which was confirmed in the bulls from Rockley in 2013.
All costs in the matter were awarded to Vanrook and the quarantine restriction placed on them was declared null and void.
Mr Taylor told the North Queensland Register that three hours after the ruling was made the BJD regulations were amended to incorporate ‘bison strain’ in with ‘cattle strain’ due to Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry John McVeigh’s insistence to “remove any doubt that it covers all strains of Johne’s disease, including the bison strain.”
Mr McVeigh also said that in his opinion “the court ruled on a technicality” which led Mr Taylor to question Minister McVeigh on his duplicitous actions regarding the BJD situation from the start.
“While he says that he‘s working with affected graziers to get cattle tested and quarantine restrictions lifted on properties as quickly as possible, his actions conflict with those views,” Mr Taylor said.
After the Vanrook decision was made on Friday Mr McVeigh said “Queensland is a protected zone for Johne’s disease and the state government is carrying out the wishes of the vast majority of the beef industry to maintain this status which underpins our access to international markets.
“When he says he’s carrying out the wishes of the vast majority of the beef industry, from my perspective he actually means he’s taking his cues from AgForce, and AgForce have no intention of lifting the quarantine restrictions until the current process is completed,” he said.
In his statement Mr McVeigh also said “Queensland is following the agreed-to national protocols on Johne’s disease to maintain market access.”
“For any quarantined property to get back into the live cattle trade to Indonesia, they need to gain federal government sign-off through AQIS,” he said.
John Gunthorpe from the BJD Action Group said in a letter sent to the North Queensland Register that it was disappointing to read these comments from Mr McVeigh.
“He still argues that the reason his department are inflicting all this pain on the industry is “... to maintain this status which underpins our access to international markets.”
Mr Gunthorpe said if Mr McVeigh was referring to beef, offal or by-products from the slaughter of cattle then he is poorly advised.
“All the countries to which we sell these products are BJD endemic including the USA, Japan, China and the EC,” Mr Gunthorpe said.
“The World Trade Organisation agreement on non-tariff barriers restricts the use of disease as a trade barrier if it is also present in the importing country,” he said.
“On the other hand if the minister is referring to the trade of live animals, then Indonesia requires that the vendor of the stock has not had a clinical case of Johne’s disease on his property for the past five years. This is the only Johne’s disease requirement for the live export of cattle to Indonesia.”
“As far as we are aware there are only three Queensland properties that would not meet this test and they do not export live cattle.
“So the only other properties prevented from exporting live cattle are those under a notice of quarantine and the Minister’s Protection Zone policy is resulting in the largest share by far of the denial to live export to Indonesia.
“Entrust the management of BJD to the cattle producers and you will have no disruption to trade in live cattle to Indonesia.
“There are no international markets where access needs to be underpinned by the minister’s draconian BJD management policy.
“If he (Mr McVeigh) is advised by AgForce and the Cattle Council of Australia, then they will share responsibility for the losses and costs incurred by the illegally quarantined properties and may find themselves as parties to a future class action if one is necessary.”
Mr Taylor said when the BJD testing came back positive on the three stud cows at Rockley Brahman Stud in late 2012, DAFF issued a full-scale inspection notice to any possible carriers of cattle that had in some way originated from Rockley.
He said the decision led to a blanket quarantine on all possible properties which had or were still carrying cattle which originated in some way from Rockley while testing was carried out.
“Since that time 20,000 tests have been carried out, and while that monumental operation was being conducted, properties were restricted from moving or selling cattle until the time came for their cattle to be tested.
“But the thing is of those 20,000 tests carried out, not a single one has returned as positive for ‘bison strain’ or ‘cattle strain’ BJD.
“This begs the question how can ‘suspect’ properties remain under quarantine to this day, when all evidence points to there being nothing to be suspicious about?”
Mr Gunthorpe is also dubious of the way in which the entire BJD situation was handled since the beginning.
He said the Supreme Court and its Chief Justice did not rule on a technicality as Dr McVeigh suggests.
“Put simply the court determined that bison strain is not cattle strain, and DAFF regulations until last Friday said Bovine Johne’s Disease only comes from cattle strain,” Mr Gunthorpe said.
“These are not issues of technicalities. They are fundamental in the application of the Livestock Act 1915,” he said.
Mr Gunthorpe queried why the department did not put through the updates rushed through last week at the time the bison strain was discovered in 2013.
“They knew it was bison strain and the regulations clearly said cattle strain.
“Compensation now payable to those devastated by their poor management policy could have been avoided if the department had been competent on this issue.
“Queensland taxpayers will be paying for the department’s incompetence.”
Mr Taylor said Mr McVeigh and DAFF responded in a knee-jerk fashion to the initial outbreak discovery by issuing the all-encompassing inspection notice, when they should have relied on graziers to report any cattle they found suspicious of carrying a BJD-strain themselves.
The Vanrook court case transcript states that Section 14(1) of the Stock Act has a dual purpose. First, it invests stock inspectors with a power and corresponding duty to act protectively of biosecurity interests “on being satisfied” that stock (in this case, cattle) is “suspected to be infected” with a disease (including Johne’s disease or Bjd).
And the DAFF website states ‘The most common method of animal-to-animal spread is to the calf from its dam via germs on the udder.’
Mr Taylor said this is further proof that the all-encompassing quarantine notice was a muddled response from the get go.
“It would have made more sense if a quarantine notice had been issued to Rockley, and then had graziers test their own herds.
He said if that approach had been followed all cows would have been tested without putting a halt on any sales or movement of cattle from the 200-plus quarantined properties which rely upon the availability of these outlets to continue their business operations.
Mr Taylor said the notice issued to Vanrook in specific, further proved that the blanket quarantine wasn’t well thought through before it was issued.
“They only sell organic breeders, which were all produced from the herd internally, and they only sell steers for backgrounding or to the live export market.
“The point being that if the cattle that were being sold from these properties did not come out of any cows that could have been BJD-infected why was the notice issued to Vanrook in the first place?”
Mr Taylor said a total of 2381 cows on Vanrook were tested without a single positive test being returned.
He said that it was this speculative train of thought to place suspicion on all cattle which had had any sort of contact with the Rockley cows that was wrongheaded from the start.
Mr Taylor said his clients at Vanrook will be seeking compensation for the quarantine, but have not yet determined an amount.