JD debate risks misinforming farmers

By Alannah Mactiernan, Minister for Agriculture and Food
January 17 2022 - 2:00am
Alannah MacTiernan, Minister for Agriculture and Food

WE are concerned that the farming community is being fed misinformation on the important issue of Johne's disease.

This misinformation may also be undermining our work with industry to maximise our biosecurity efforts.

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We take biosecurity extremely seriously.

Over the past few years we have successfully eradicated incursions of Queensland fruit fly, red imported fire ant, brown marmorated stink bug and citrus canker.

We've just delivered a $15 million boost to our biosecurity capabilities to defend our borders and manage outbreaks.

But when hard decisions have to be made, we make those decisions in partnership with industry.

Rather than failing to consult on Johne's disease, the evidence shows the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD) bent over backwards to engage farmers both directly and through their representative groups.

Let's look at the timeline.

  • 3 September 2021: JD cattle strain confirmed on a WA property.
  • 13 September: DPIRD meets with cattle industry representatives to consider the response, with WAFarmers in attendance. Minutes from the meeting show broad agreement that eradication was not possible.
  • 14 September: WAFarmers writes to DPIRD requesting consideration of control of JD.
  • 16 September: DPIRD meets with WAFarmers to discuss the issue, again resulting in agreement that eradication was not feasible. With the evidence of that consultation and the clear, if reluctant, agreement of industry that the costs of eradication would be too high an imposition on industry, I agree to reduce the regulations on JD.
  • November 22: DPIRD wrote to industry representatives seeking feedback on proposed changes to import conditions and the timing of implementation. The WAFarmers Dairy Council endorsed the proposal. WAFarmers provided no other feedback.

What more could the government have done?

It's important to remember that WA was not free of JD prior to this detection.

We had the sheep strain of JD and the decision in 2016 to reduce JD regulation in cattle in all other Australian jurisdictions meant WA was no longer recognised internationally as a JD free zone.

Eradication of JD requires destocking of herds on infected properties.

An eradication program would result in hundreds of WA cattle properties being placed under regulatory control for between two and six years.

The meeting at my office in December was never intended to revisit the industry consensus that the costs of eradication were too high, but instead to consider the pros and cons of publicly identifying properties that may have JD.

It is difficult to work with an industry body that says one thing during consultation and another in the media.

I thank the many industry bodies - such as the Pastoralists and Graziers Association, the Kimberley Pilbara Cattlemen's Association, the United Beef Breeders Association, the WA Livestock Exporters Association, Western Dairy and the WA Cattle Industry IFS Management Committee - which have worked constructively to chart a commercially sustainable path forward.

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