CRACKS have emerged in Queensland's push to eradicate bovine Johne's disease after the Australian Brahman Breeders Association (ABBA) withdrew its support for the State Government's controversial biosecurity plan last week.
Agriculture Minister John McVeigh has called ABBA's decision "puzzling", while AgForce Cattle president Howard Smith branded the action "disappointing".
Pressure from ABBA's members, who are hurting under current quarantine orders as the State Government hunts down the disease, is believed to be behind the shift.
ABBA chief executive John Croaker said his directors believed eradication of bovine Johne's disease (BJD) from Queensland was impossible.
"We have been increasingly concerned about the effects the quarantine orders are having on our members," he said.
"We had originally asked that quarantines be lifted and the vaccine implemented, but the vaccine is not all that we had hoped for.
"We have supported the continuation of the eradication plan up to a point, but we are increasingly concerned about the impacts this is having on our members, so what we are proposing is that quarantines be lifted and that BJD becomes a producer-managed disease.
"We are proposing that there be a program of active surveillance across the industry. What we don't want is the prevalence of the disease to increase.
"Herds that are found to be infected could be subjected to a self-managed program with vaccine. We would expect Biosecurity Queensland to work with people who are affected to contain the spread of the disease, but no producer should be quarantined."
Brahman breeder Wallace Gunthorpe, who has claimed some of the responsibility for ABBA's change of sentiment, as a key player in the BJD Action Response Coalition, said his members were now focusing on winning AgForce's support.
"ABBA should be commended for listening to its members, which is more than what AgForce is doing at the moment," he said.
"All that the current policy will do is drive the disease underground, because the stigma of being suspected of having the disease is actually worse than the disease itself."
AgForce Cattle president Howard Smith told Queensland Country Life soon after the story broke last Wednesday that ABBA had surrendered too early and should have at least waited until the first test results were due in March.
"It is still AgForce's position, and has been all along, that Queensland should be protecting its BJD protected status until evidence is produced that tells us otherwise," he said.
"We have a lot of members who are not infected with this disease, and if we go down the track of not containing it and eradicating it, all beef producers in Queensland will be impacted to some extent."
In a statement last Thursday, Mr Smith said maintenance of the protected zone status was important to sustaining existing markets for high-quality livestock produced in Queensland.
"Keeping this status should be a priority if we are to fully protect our existing markets, and provide surety of these markets into the future for more than 11 million head of cattle in Queensland and the financial viability of the people who produce them," he said.
"The technical advice we have from the Queensland Government says we can control the disease, and it is far too early to give up on protecting our state from BJD.
"In saying this, AgForce also acknowledges the retention of protected zone status will rely on a small group of affected people having to work through quarantine and testing regimes to eradicate this incursion.
"We understand this is by no means easy for those impacted; however, an all-of-industry approach must be taken for the long-term benefit of the entire cattle sector."
Mr Smith said it was also important restrictive and costly regulations were not put on the broader industry as a result of the BJD detection, as has been the case in other states.
"This would put immeasurable costs and productivity pressure on the whole industry in the long term," he said.
Mr McVeigh has repeatedly stated that the eradication plan is the the beef industry's preferred response, and that he will not change the strategy until industry tells him otherwise.
He is urging the ABBA to reconsider dumping the State Government's BJD eradication plan.
"I am puzzled by the Australian Brahman Breeders Association's decision, particularly when at the industry meeting prior to Christmas, ABBA stated it agreed, along with other Queensland producer peak bodies, to continue with the BJD eradication program, at least until the first-round test results become available in March," he said.
"While I understand the pressure ABBA is under from some of its members, I strongly urge the ABBA council to reconsider its decision, given the strong endorsement of the current program by the rest of the beef industry, including AgForce and Cattle Council of Australia."
Mr McVeigh said his department had more than 50 officers assigned to the eradication of BJD and was making good progress with trace-forward and risk assessments.
"As of January 10, we have removed 50 properties from the 170 initially under movement restrictions," he said.
The government eradication strategy continues to draw criticism from producers swept up in the outbreak, who remain frustrated with stock movement restrictions while Biosecurity Queensland officers investigate and test for the cattle- wasting disease.
Tensions also remain frayed at Bajool in Central Queensland where the family at the source of the outbreak have spoken out against the government and have withdrawn their support for the eradication plan, as reported in Queensland Country Life last week.
Rockley Station's Ashley Kirk, who had three animals positively confirmed with the disease on November 26, sparking the trace-forward operation to more than 170 properties, says he will refuse to have any more cattle tested until assurances can be given the program will work.
Biosecurity Queensland officers led by Dr Ron Glanville visited the Kirk property last Thursday in an attempt to win back the family's support.
Mr Kirk said the family was considering all the options government officials had presented, but at this stage was leaning towards not testing the herd.
"It's not about defying the government, it's about making a decision that will have the least impact on our business," he said.
"Every option we look at is going to hurt us, but what it may come down to is taking the hit and rebuilding."
Mr Kirk said they had been given four options: to test the herd, to fully eradicate the herd, to remain in quarantine and sell only to feedlots and meatworks and start a new herd using IVF and embryo transfer programs.
"Ron Glanville is a nice fella and very experienced so we were genuinely interested to hear what he had to say," Mr Kirk said.
"But all of those options are pretty unpalatable, so we're taking some time to carefully consider our next step."
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