Biosecurity Balls Up in the Air

By BRIAN TESSMANN, QDO President

The issues around the proposed changes to Queensland’s tick and Bovine Johne's Disease (BJD) Biosecurity Legislation and Regulation should make Dairy Farmers and cattle producers in very concerned. Every dairy farmer in Queensland needs to be become involved from now on because as it will impact on their business sooner or later. I will address the announced changes to the tick regulations by the Queensland Government to move from three to two zones, further next week.

From an ethical and natural justice point of view the just released Animal Health Australia (AHA) document on removing regulations around BJD ‘Where to from Here’ is probably one of the most unjust and one-sided documents I have seen in years. It is riddled with too many inconsistencies, inaccuracies and plain injustice for me to cover in this column. Put simply, the report proposed change in BJD management put forward by AHA transfers all responsibility for managing the risk of BJD from government agencies to individual producers. The report goes on to say clearly that AHA’s intention is to treat BJD as an endemic disease, while the AHA report in another section of the same report acknowledges that BJD is in fact not endemic in a number of Australian regions.

These regions are obviously include Queensland, the Northern Territory and Western Australia in which the past and current regulations have served well. While those who for their own reasons desire a freeing up of cattle movements and advocate for this AHA report often throw mud at the current practices, its effectiveness can easily be seen, evidenced by the high occurrence of BJD in Northern NSW and the very low almost non-existent levels in south east QLD. But the AHA committee which was dominated by Government officials has the view that times are changing and that government wants to withdraw from its responsibilities and duty of care.

The greatest injustice is that while the initial intention of this current review placed high importance on farmer education, communication and support, this now has seemingly dissipated. Further, the report encourages industry management and practices including producer tracing forward and backward following outbreaks, but government itself cannot offer any practical ways this can actually occur. The reports continually falls back to farmers taking common law action if they are infected which little real potential for limiting the spread as BJD is such a slow incubating disease that the people at fault could be possibly non-existent by the time of discovery.

The real victim, the honest producer, has no recompense themselves and is then potentially liable to others pursuing action against them. The Queensland Government also informed QDO that as QLD dairy could be hard hit, dairy could set up its own industry driven and funded scheme but shyed away from any resourcing and support from government. With only three months until removing regulations this is akin to throwing someone into the sea in the middle of the Pacific without a life jacket and justifying their almost certain drowning by saying, well if they build their own boat they can sail back to Australia by themselves.

QLD Dairy and the QDO have been involved in and invested significant resources into BJD management for more than two decades now. We have also surveyed Queensland dairy farmers and established that 96% of them want to maintain current regulations. This however has not stopped people from outside our industry with clearly no knowledge of the dairy issues around this disease abusing both QDO and myself for representing our members. Making claims that we are out of touch and new comers to the BJD debate are simply outrageous. Their uninformed bully boy tactics will continue because they have got them what they want, at least when government wants reallocate resources and have no concern for industries impacted. What are Queensland dairy farmers to do in five to ten years’ time when Johnes Disease is common place in QLD dairy herds? Especially if heaven forbid there is a link proven to a human health condition such as Crones disease.

What we need is for Minister Byrne to stand up for Queensland dairy farmers and beef producers to work on a solution that continues to protect our industry from BJD. We need a Government and Industry partnership to achieve this.