BJD control options canvassed

Rueben HaleThe West Australian

WA cattle producers have engaged in a "robust debate" over a plan to tackle the $600,000-a-year threat of bovine Johne's disease.

The State's BJD-free status is in jeopardy after the disease, which affects a cow's digestive system, was detected in cattle on six Kimberley pastoral stations, with the industry now concerned the infection could spread rapidly to southern cattle areas if left unchecked.

Since the detection, affected stations have been quarantined and unable to move cattle.

The tight restrictions affect the stations' ability to export live cattle and purchase cattle from outside the State.

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Last week, more than 70 industry participants attended a discussion forum to develop a plan to tackle the issue, with producers divided over whether to allow deregulation and push the burden of farm biosecurity on to the producer.

As part of current regulations, a 20 cent contribution on the sale of all cattle/carcasses produced in the State is collected to fund surveillance programs for BJD and other bovine diseases.

The money may also be used to manage future incursions of other pests/diseases.

Stations under quarantine restrictions can seek to be compensated for losses from the fund.

Many producers are concerned deregulation will inevitably lead to the disease gaining a stranglehold.

The attendees, made up of producers and industry people, debated the BJD program, with the aim of developing a new national strategic plan to be rolled out, with a target completion date of February next year.

The Department of Agriculture and Food WA currently maintains a BJD surveillance program, but warns the new BJD strategy options to apply in WA, formulated by the chief veterinary officer, will come with risks and opportunities, with deregulation meaning some producers may accept greater risks with their purchases.

Kojonup Angus breeder Pam McGregor said WA must maintain its BJD-free status at this stage.

"As far as I can tell there is little evidence of BJD in the State and there is absolutely no benefit to WA producers in removing the status - if that happened, our live export markets will potentially be greatly compromised," she said.

Mrs McGregor said a reliable test for the disease was needed.

"Industry requires a reliable single animal test, instead of unreliable - the DNA test is fairly reliable five-animal pool test," she said.

"The only totally reliable test on a single animal we have can only be done after the animal has been slaughtered.

"Therefore, I believe many of the producers that attended the meeting are in favour of losing the overly severe quarantine restrictions imposed on them and our disease-free status should be preserved."

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