Questions on Johne’s system, now we have the answers!

Cattle Council responds to Johne's confusion with detailed answers


It will be up to the seller or presenter whether they want to insist on separation at sale venues, says Cattle Council of Australia biosecurity advisor, Justin Toohey.

It will be up to the seller or presenter whether they want to insist on separation at sale venues, says Cattle Council of Australia biosecurity advisor, Justin Toohey.

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All your Johne's Beef Assurance Score questions answered.

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The outcry over the new Johne’s classification system has raised many questions from our readers. Our colleagues at The Land took these to the Cattle Council of Australia’s (CCA’s) biosecurity advisor, Justin Toohey, for a reply. We thank Justin and the Cattle Council for taking time out to answer producers directly.

Here are the questions and answers:

 1) If a showground has a Johne’s Beef Assurance Score (JBAS) of 6 and I have a score of 7, how will that affect my score ?

It’s your decision whether you participate in a show with lower-scored cattle. If it is a concern, ask the showground for its biosecurity management plan to see if animals can be kept separate and, if not, see if the showground has the capacity for you to ensure some sort of separation, particularly for calves. Either way, showgrounds represent low risk of cross-contamination, which is generally highest where Johnes-susceptible animals are co-grazed. 

2) Will cattle have to be segregated according to their JBAS score at shows and sales?

When animals are marketed through saleyards, it’s up to the seller to nominate the JBAS of their own cattle and it’s up to the buyer to decide on the risk the animals pose if bought and joined with their herd. It’s up to the seller or presenter whether they want to insist on separation. JBAS 7 and 8 tend not to be marketed through saleyards if full advantage of their high status is to be taken.  

3) Why do small producers think they do not have to do it? Shouldn’t it be every producer? 

JBAS and Livestock Production Assurance (LPA) are voluntary schemes for all sized herds. Producers who choose to participate are doing so to maximise their marketing advantage over those who don’t. It is wise, but not compulsory, to do it.

4) Why haven’t authorities contacted cattle breeders instead of us finding out at the last minute?

It’s an industry-owned and industry-managed scheme; having said this, there was agreement two years ago between industry and governments that all organisations would assist in getting the message out to as many of the quarter-of-a-million cattle producers as quickly as possible. Communications messages have been distributed for the past 15 months, with intense efforts during the past three months. All organisations, including state farmer organisations, have had access to these messages. Despite all the communications, it is sometimes possible for people to miss the message. 

5) Do they still separate Bovine from Ovine Johne’s disease, or is it now just called Johnes disease?

The cattle industry has accepted the science behind Johne’s being called Johne’s disease, whatever the species. So while there are different strains of Johne’s, there is ample evidence of each strain cross-infecting different species of susceptible livestock. In other words, Johne’s of any sort on a property is relevant to all the species of livestock on that property.

6) The process to get to the point we are at now (bit of a background of the decision making process), who made these decisions and the details of any public consultation.

The policy now covering the cattle industry started taking shape at an open workshop in Sydney on February 16, 2015. At the workshop were representatives from the cattle industry (affected and unaffected producers), the sheep industry, the veterinary and scientific professions, all levels of government and the media. Many submissions were provided and considered. A number of similar workshops followed across the country, with participants having the opportunity to comment on the evolving framework paper that was finalised in February 2016. Among the early decisions made were to deregulate and to cease distinguishing between Johne’s strains when discussing infection in cattle. The new cattle Johne’s framework was introduced in mid 2016, with significant lead-in media coverage.

7) I have been breeding and selling cattle for 20 years, but I haven't had any official notification from LPA, Meat and Livestock Australia, from my agents, or anyone for that matter that this is a real thing. The only thing I have seen about it is on social media.

The JBAS changes are being communicated by Animal Health Australia on behalf of the CCA. A range of communications activities – including media statements, frequently asked questions and answers, circulation of the biosecurity plan, on-line and radio interviews and social media updates – have been undertaken. The LPA changes, which will be introduced on October 1, 2017, are being implemented on behalf of the red meat industry by the Integrity Systems Company. Information on the LPA changes has been disseminated through peak councils, state farming organisations, state departments and agents, as well as general media and producer workshops. This activity will continue over the coming months. Producers will also be sent information directly, both in hard copy and via email. All information is also available at www.mla.com.au/integrity

8) If all cattle sold off the property are slaughtered direct to an abattoir will a JBAS score be required.

No, because Johne’s is not a disease that affects meat safety. There is an exception when sending slaughter cattle to WA where a minimum of JBAS 6 is required.

9) Are they trying to apply this across the board to all cattle producers, not just stud stock breeders?

The central issue (on-farm biosecurity planning), while voluntary, is essential for all livestock producers who want a JBAS and/or LPA accreditation. JBAS is a voluntary tool for any producer who sees a marketing and Johne’s-control advantage in using it.

10) Can someone with a JBAS score 7 buy cattle from someone with a JBAS score 6 and maintain their higher score?

It’s up to the buyer to allocate an honest JBAS score to the cattle. If the buyer is confident of the seller’s biosecurity practices and herd health and is confident there is minimal Johne’s risk from the purchased cattle, a JBAS of 7 can be maintained. It’s important to remember that a JBAS of 7 requires veterinary oversight and testing for Johne’s, so ask your vet about making such purchasing decisions.

11) What are the actual costs associated with blood/faecal testing of a check test (score 7, 50 head), or sample test (score 8, 310 head) ? 

There are three common tests for use on samples collected by the vet:  ELISA, HT-J PCR and culture. It’s important to talk about the tests and their costs with a vet – the following is a guide only. The ELISA is about $13 to $15 a test; the HT-J test is about $120 to $130 a test, but allows for pooling of five samples; the culture test is about the same price per test as the HT-J PCR test. Therefore, for check test using the HT-J PCR test, the cost would be around $1200 to $1300. A sample test using 300 (the maximum number of samples required for such a test) would be $7200 to $7800. 

12) Is there going to be any reimbursement of these costs via government, etc?

No, unless state governments introduce some form of subsidy using state-held producer funds.

13) How are cattle going to be segregated in cattleyards according to their JBAS score to maintain animal health and ultimately the score that people will have spent money (via testing) to achieve?

This is for the saleyard to decide. Saleyards and communal cattleyards are a very low risk for cross-contamination. JBAS 7 and 8 herds are unlikely to be sold through the saleyards, but, if they are, the vendor should make clear the score of the cattle.  

14) AuctionsPlus has already started including JBAS score in assessments, but it's voluntary. Are scores going to be printed on pen cards at saleyards?

This would be a commercial decision on the part of the saleyard operators and agents. Industry is working on developing symbols for attaching to pens that indicate the J-BAS of the cattle in the pen and whether they are accompanied by a cattle health declaration. These symbols should be available in a few months.

15) There is still plenty of confusion out there about the deadlines. Was it June 30 or October 1?

June 30 was the deadline for on-farm plans to be done to continue calling a herd its transition score (JBAS 7 for most, and JBAS 8 in WA); without a plan, producers can only nominate their herds as JBAS 6 from July 1, 2017, provided other JBAS requirements are met (like no Johne’s cases for five years). Producers are being advised they’ll need an on-farm biosecurity plan by October 1, 2017, or they risk losing LPA accreditation, so they might as well do their plan for JBAS now, because this will cover them for LPA accreditation.  

16) Producers still have not received formal notification of the new requirements via a letter with LLS rates etc. Legally, how would any onus on the producer be upheld in court if producers have never actually received formal notification of requirements?

J-BAS is voluntary.  LLS and many other stakeholders have a role in communicating the changes.

17) What happens to your JBAS score if you put your cattle on the road?

It’s up to you to make a judgement about the risk your cattle have been exposed to by being grazed on the road; there can be no hard and fast rule about this.  If JD is important to you, try for an alternative method of grazing relief.  On the other hand, if your herd is the first on the road for the season, the risk would be very low.  For cattle grazing on the road, there are many disease risks to take into account. Sound biosecurity practices should be followed.

18) Will the LPA become compulsory and what this would mean for auditing and the inclusion of the biosecurity plan?

LPA will remain an industry-owned, market-driven, non-regulated system.  For producers to take maximum advantage of the market, they would benefit to be LPA accredited.  Being accredited will remain the producer’s choice.  If a producer chooses accreditation, they agree to operate by LPA rules and be subject to possible audit.  If, on the other hand, they ignore accreditation they won’t be subject to LPA rules or audits.  Most producers are generally already doing what’s required and documenting it would give them a marketing advantage over non-accredited producers.

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