Bluetongue ban hits northern Vic heifer sales

04 Feb, 2019 12:00 PM
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Some northern Victorian dairy farmers have been unable to sell heifers to China despite a temporary bluetongue virus zone being lifted in December 2017.
The temporary bluetongue zone continues to limit available numbers of breeding Holstein heifers.
Some northern Victorian dairy farmers have been unable to sell heifers to China despite a temporary bluetongue virus zone being lifted in December 2017.

A temporary bluetongue virus zone lifted in December 2017 is still restricting trade to China from some Victorian properties.

And a review into the program that implemented a temporary exclusion zone 100 kilometres around Echuca is still underway, 11 months on.

A temporary zone of 100km was put in place around Echuca in October 2017 after BTV antibodies were found in a mob of local dairy heifers, later found to have come from a permanent bluetongue zone in northern NSW, but not declared by the producer.

After a surveillance program by Agriculture Victoria, the zone was lifted in December of the same year.

The Federal Department of Agriculture said in February last year Animal Health Australia (AHA) would review the National Arbovirus Monitoring Program, which monitors the spread of economically-important insect-borne diseases such as BTV.

According to AHA, “the report has been made available to the Steering Committee (National Arbovirus Monitoring Program Steering Committee) for their consideration, discussion and determination of next steps; it is not available publicly. The committee is scheduled to meet in March for their next steps.”

Victoria’s acting chief veterinary officer Dr Cameron Bell said “after bluetongue virus was detected in Northern Victoria in 2017, a temporary exclusion zone was enacted to support Victoria’s valuable live export industry providing significant assurances to our international trading partners”.

“Victoria is working with other jurisdictions and industry stakeholders to review national bluetongue virus surveillance and response protocols through the National Arbovirus Monitoring Program Steering Committee,” he said.

The Agriculture Department did not want to comment on the review.

With cattle producers 95km from Echuca having as recently as November had heifers refused export to China, the placement of the temporary zone is still a contentious issues.

Andy Ingle, Landmark International, said it was unlikely the restrictions to China would be lifted anytime soon.

“Under the NAMP guidelines the zone should be removed for China access after two years which would be in late 2019 however it is highly likely that China may continue to simply state that the zone will remain in place for this market,” Mr Ingle said.

“The China market contributed widely to drought-affected beef producers in 2018 who were able to offload young breeding heifers and dairy heifers a like at significant premiums above the domestic market and we see the outlook remaining positive in 2019.

“The temporary bluetongue zone continues to severely limit available numbers of breeding Holstein heifers and as a result exporters are pushing business to the likes of New Zealand and South America to ensure supply of animals.”

Mr Ingle said the negligence of the producer and agent providing incorrect information on the origin of the cattle, whether intentional or unintentional, had dramatically impacted exports for some producers.

“Then the negligence of the Victorian DPI investigating this has resulted in approximately one-third of south-eastern Australia’s dairy producers being locked out of a major source of income at a time of drought and challenging milk prices,” he said.

“These knee jerk (and in this case incorrect) reaction by relevant government bodies to incidents cannot continue to affect everyone, the system must be designed to obtain the facts first and then deal accordingly with them and any negligent party involved to be dealt with severely, so that it sends a strong message to all areas of the supply chain.”

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