A NEWDEGATE stud cattle breeder has labelled new import conditions, which aim to reduce the likelihood of introducing Johne's Disease (JD) cattle-strain (C-strain) into Western Australia, as "absolutely ridiculous" and a "hamstring to the industry".
The enhanced import conditions will be implemented on July 1, as a result of a WA Industry Funding Scheme Management Committee (IFSMC) consultation on the management of JD C-strain within the State.
Breeders became aware of the new conditions in a letter issued by the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD) last month, which has received mixed reviews among breeders.
The letter stated "the IFSMC consultation outcome was that the majority of Western Australian industry supported a Statewide regulated approach with enhanced import conditions".
Key changes to JD cattle import conditions
- New faecal sampling and testing requirements (not the same as the national JD in cattle guidelines) and corresponding amendments to veterinary and producer declarations.
- A requirement for the supplying property to have a veterinary-approved biosecurity plan for cattle staying within WA (not imported for slaughter or export).
- Removal of the requirement for the Johne's Beef Assurance Score (JBAS) and JD Dairy Assurance Score for cattle imported to stay in WA.
WA IFSMC chairman Steve Meerwald said the conditions were based on the science of managing the increased risk of incursion due to the unregulated position of the rest of Australia.
He said the recommendations were made by DPIRD.
Quicksilver Charolais and Droughtmaster stud principal Doug Giles, Newdegate, questioned who had been consulted about the enhanced conditions and why the Johne's Beef Assurance Score (JBAS) 8 system had to be dropped.
According to DPIRD, a total of 12 cases of JD C-strain were detected in WA cattle between 1952 and 2019, with the last detection in 2012.
Mr Giles said there would be repercussions right through to the commercial industry if the proposed changes were made.
"It is ridiculous, absolutely ridiculous," Mr Giles said.
"There's a lot of people who don't use artificial insemination (AI) and there are some breeds where AI is not an option, so it will just hamstring us to no end.
To put restrictions on the east coast is really dumb because there are studs there who have gone to JBAS like we said we wanted them to do.
They are about to go to JBAS double-tested and just as they've got there, WA has decided to change the goal posts on these people.
"I know little studs which have spent $20,000 to try and become eligible for Western Australia.
"Those studs would be eligible come July and this new ruling now makes them ineligible.
"It is a lot of money and I don't think the stud industry really has been consulted to the importation of animals."
Mr Giles said at the moment, the proposed changes only impacted cattle from the southern agricultural region of Western Australia, whereas cattle coming out of Queensland into WA were yet to be restricted.
"I spoke to (a number of people) who import and export genetics in and out of Western Australia, so it is not one-way traffic - it is both ways," he said.
"Those guys bring bulls in every year.
"Breeding capacity, the gene pool in the stud industry isn't very big now, but if you go and restrict it like that and take out a working bull, we are all back to AI."
Mr Giles said he had had conversations with commercial breeders who had said the gene pool for Angus cattle was already "fairly small" in Western Australia.
This would mean the gene pool would become much smaller when the changes are enforced.
He added that AI and embryo programs were not accurate and genetics moving forward would be "ridiculous" with the use of home bred bulls.
"The thing is they are actually putting it onto Queensland too, so in three years they're going to have to follow suit," Mr Giles said.
"I've already spoken to people in Queensland and they said they aren't going to do the tests.
"There's a couple of thousand bulls that go across the Top End into WA.
"Those guys are really starting to put money into genetics, now they are going to be using mickey bulls back in the trap, and our industry will go into a hole again."
The letter, issued by DPIRD, state import conditions would be "fairly consistent" across the States and Territories and no longer take into account the historical CattleMAP regions, given the time that has lapsed since the program ceased.
For New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, Tasmania and the ACT, there would be no significant changes to the import requirements other than new timeframes for testing, minimum testing age and herd size criteria.
Meanwhile, for the Northern Territory and Queensland, the most significant change would be that properties must undertake faecal herd screening testing, instead of the check test.
To accommodate these changes, transitional periods would apply.
Monterey Murray Grey and Angus stud principal Gary Buller, Karridale, said the IFSMC decision was flawed and a "knee-jerk reaction".
He said it would cause grief for stud breeders, regardless of breed in WA, who wouldn't be able to source outcross-type genetics across the Eastern States.
"They will say 'Oh yes, you can still bring them in'," Mr Buller said.
"Well that's rubbish because every time the Eastern States studs achieve the requirements under the regulations, the Western Australian department raises the bar.
"It means a lot of those breeders have spent $20,000-$40,000, depending on the size of their herd, to achieve the requirements demanded by authorities, then they move the bar so they still can't get them in.
"People are going to throw their hands in the air and say 'bugger this'."
Mr Buller said it had been costly for breeders in the east to achieve health status to transport cattle into Western Australia, only for the bar to be raised again, making it near impossible.
He said genetically it would make WA a "bit of a backwater" for a number of reasons, number one being there were no AI centres - where you can take licenced semen and embryos in WA.
"It will have a massive impact," Mr Buller said.
"We can't send any of our genetics, whether it be bulls or cows, to the east to have embryos collected, semen collected or for export, because the regulations will be such that you won't be able to bring those animals back.
"It will be a risk and if the genetics are seen to be that valuable to the breeder and to the rest of the market then it is probably not something they are prepared to risk.
"The animals are born and bred over here, they go to an AI station, where they finish up on the quarantine side, where the animals are tested and tested and tested and yet, it is virtually impossible to bring those animals back out of there or it will be under this new set of regulations.
"So that's really just prohibiting the Western Australian breeders from participating in the genetics side of the industry."
Mr Buller said not every breeder was in a position to conduct AI programs which was why they needed to import new working bulls that could "do the job" in their herds and maintain the diversity of bloodlines.
"People say 'Oh well you can buy them in Western Australia' well just have a look at all the studs that are doing AI," he said.
"It's like the pointy end of the javelin.
"They are all using the same bulls and as I see it there's not much point in buying any of those, because there's a saturation point in the industry with some of those bulls now."
One of Australia's leading Angus breeders, Harry Lawson, Lawsons Angus, said he had not seen any justification for the decision.
Mr Lawson said it appeared to be a parochial decision rather than one which followed science.
"All other States have deregulated Johne's Market Assurance Programs (MAPs) to encourage producers to self manage their biosecurity," Mr Lawson said.
"This feels like a backward step.
"The best way to deal with Johne's is to actually encourage people to test and run their own biosecurity programs.
"Closing Western Australian borders is a short-sighted and simplistic approach.
"We really don't need more bureaucracy unless there is a valid quantifiable reason for it."
Mr Lawson said Johne's was a disease previously seen mainly in the dairy industry and in high rainfall areas.
He said it had never been widely seen in beef cattle and if there were concerns about Johne's then there should be further research into the disease and producers should be sent incentives to test and run their own biosecurity programs.
"I think farmers have enough very real issues to deal with such as the growing number of extreme weather events and the rising cost of production without unnecessary layers of bureaucratic costs and restraint of trade," Mr Lawson said.
"Pastoralists and beef producers potentially will pay a high price for this decision.
"One of the critical questions, which hasn't been reported, is will farmers be adequately compensated if they do test positive?"
A Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD) spokesperson said the new import conditions would apply to all cattle entering Western Australia, noting direct slaughter/export cattle conditions had not changed.
The spokesperson said surveillance had shown Johne's disease (cattle strain) was not known to be present in WA cattle.
"The changes to import requirements will be implemented by DPIRD on behalf of the WA Cattle Industry Funding Scheme Management Committee.
"DPIRD encourages cattle producers to support these new measures by reviewing their onfarm biosecurity plans and to confirm with suppliers that they meet Western Australia's import requirements."
The spokesperson said DPIRD had notified all WA cattle producers and suppliers from the Eastern States directly of the new import requirements.
Mr Meerwald said although there were differing opinions of the best option moving forward, most of the industry supported a Statewide regulated approach to managing the JD (C-strain).
He said of the submissions received, 90 per cent opted for the regulated approach and 74pc wanted enhanced import conditions.
"The regulated approach means 90pc of submissions wanted to maintain border entry conditions for cattle coming into Western Australia," Mr Meerwald said.
"The enhanced import conditions were detailed in the consultation papers and were based on the premise of maintaining the status quo in terms of risk of incursion into WA.
"That was based on the declining BJD C-strain status of the non-WA cattle herd post deregulation in the rest of Australia.
"The targeted surveillance program confirmed the negligible presence of BJD C-strain in Western Australia, which is what reinforced the State's industry decision to continue to regulate border entry with enhanced conditions."
Kapari Angus breeders Liz and Tony Sudlow, Northampton, supported the new conditions and said they were "strongly in favour" of increased surveillance to keep BJD out of WA, as were the vast majority of local beef producers involved in the submission process.
They said they were not opposed to small changes to streamline the procedures across the country.
However Ms Sudlow said she could understand why there would be people in the beef industry, who would be disappointed by the changes, particularly those in the Kimberley region.
She said the enhanced conditions were not confirmed prior to or during the consultation process.
"Absolutely I can understand why they wouldn't be happy about this," Ms Sudlow said.
"I guess from our point of view, we think Western Australia has a market advantage to remain BJD free.
"There's still a very significant number of cattle in the South West of Western Australia and I guess that's the market we are interested in and we think should be protected.
"We want to keep BJD out of WA, and if that makes it harder for people to bring livestock in from other states and that helps WA maintain and BJD status then that's OK."
New Norcia commercial Angus breeder Graham Nixon also supported the new BJD conditions and said it would be "foolish" to deregulate the border restrictions.
But he said a very high priority for DPIRD should be in developing an early diagnosis blood test for BJD.
"It is highly important the industry in Western Australia get right behind the development of this test, so we have access to it as soon as possible," Mr Nixon said.
"I think there's a fair chance it will come through as a piece of technology that can be used in the industry."
Mr Nixon said researchers were working on developing a DNA sequence test.
However it had been delayed due to the "inability to source sufficient sheep for testing" and "bureaucracy".
"The test could identify the animal is carrying the MAP bug long before the current faecal testing can," he said.
"With an early diagnosis test we would test the animal live, interstate, and if it returned a positive result it would not be allowed to enter Western Australia.
"At the moment, we can't do that.
"What we are trying to do at the moment (with the new conditions) is hold the fort until we get better technology and then with better technology it should be quite possible to keep the cattle herd in Western Australia free of the disease."
Mr Nixon said there was a suspected link between Johne's MAP bug and the human Crohn's disease, which must not be ignored.
"A human trial in London of Crohn's disease sufferers with the objective of trying to prove the link between the MAP bug and Crohn's disease will occur soon," Mr Nixon said.
"Having taken years to gain approval from bureaucratic structures this trial was due to start at the beginning of 2020, but that was prevented from starting from the fact of COVID-19.
"The trial is proposed by a team at King's College in London and independently by a team from Oxford University - clearly teams of the highest scientific standing.
"The King's College team is trying to prove the link is real and if successful keeping the Western Australian herd clean makes enormous sense."
Mr Nixon said the COVID-19 pandemic had made the world very conscious of infections coming from animal species and getting into the human food chain, however the intention is for it to start soon.
"In Britain the MAP bug is found in milk, even after pasteurisation and it is believed this is how it is getting into the human food chain," he said.
"Meanwhile, in Australia, WA has a very clean dairy herd, which probably cannot be claimed by several other States."
Mr Nixon said in many cases artificial insemination could be used by breeders and in reducing the number of cattle needing to be sourced from the Eastern States.
"Generally speaking the industry in Western Australia supports programs in keeping the herd as clean as they can, which means that as the disease spreads on the other side of Australia a tightening of the rules is inevitable," he said.
"All the more reason for an early diagnosis test that could be done where the cattle originate from."
- More information: agric.wa.gov.au/JD-cattle-import-conditions