Saturday, December 3, 2022

JD debate risks farmers confidence in DPIRD’s consultation processes: WAFarmers

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Trevor Whittington

Trevor Whittington, CEO, WAFarmers, WAFarmers newsletter, 25 January 2022

Last week the Minister asked in the Farm Weekly, what more could they have done to consult with industry on the outbreak of BJD.

For WAFarmers and the Minister to end up exchanging letters in the Farm Weekly it is a clear sign of a breakdown in communications between industry and the Department.

No doubt the Department will have pointed the finger at WAFarmers, painting an overwhelming case to the Minister of DPIRD bending over backwards in its efforts to consult.

As the Ministers letter stated:

Let’s look at the timeline and what’s more could have been done.

Well the simple answer from WAFarmers is:

Let’s look at the correspondence.

As the accompanying letter on this page from Geoff Pearson set out back on 14 September.

WAFarmers had clear concerns around the implications of just letting Jones disease rip and the Department throwing it all into the two hard basket.

We set out our position early and in writing but all we got in return was a request to agree on a date for giving up.

Any independent review of the process would find the Department was driving towards a preordained outcome and had tin ears when it came to what key parts of the industry was telling it.

Why would they do this, well it could be for one of two reasons, either the department saw no need for a more robust and structured consultation process as the case for opening with few restrictions was in their view so overwhelming.

Or, the Department did not want to deviate from their chosen path and intended to bulldoze aside any alternatives by ignoring suggestions such as those set out in the two letters we have formally sent.

What more could have been done? Well the Department could have listened from day one and addressed each proposal as put to them.

To be clear, this argument is not about if eradication was feasible, as the Minister noted last week the evidence was presented and industry which includes WAFarmers Dairy and Livestock Councils reluctantly agreed.

But WAFarmers made it clear from day one more should be done. Let’s look at the position put by Geoff Pearson in his letter to Dr Michelle Rodan.

The Department cannot move to an entirely de-regulated system. The Department must ensure all checks and balances are in place to reduce further prevalence of the disease – farm traceback parameters need to be continually monitored and upheld, to ensure market access to sensitive trading partners.

But somehow this inconvenient position seems to have skipped the attention of the Department and no doubt was buried deep in the Ministers briefing notes, so the Department could get what it wanted without out difficult Ministerial questions being asked about what industry wanted.

“Yes Minister” we have consulted and industry is happy to proceed with an early opening was no doubt all the Minister heard.

If the Minister was aware of WAFarmers request for ongoing track and trace to allow growers who wish to continue to remain BJD free, then she clearly was not made aware of it prior to the meeting in December held with our General and Livestock Presidents.

I have no doubt, if the Minister was fully briefed that there would have been some serious discussion in the meeting with WAFarmers in December on the merits of at least a trial of a track and trace program.

But the conversation was dominated by the Department with its focus on opening.

In the end one side was left frustrated as it was as if the decision was already made.

Hence the follow up letter to the Minister in early January calling for a trial track and trace program to at least test the departments biosecurity defences.

But as usual this was ignored with the Department publishing its response under the Ministers name last week, which again failed to address our position.

There is a pattern here. The Department is not really interested in consultation or suggestions as it hears what it wants to hear and does what it wants to do.

As a result, the Minister has an interesting problem she either concludes that all is well with her department and they can continue with their version of industry consultation.

Or, the Minister concludes that there is a problem and asks the new Director General to look seriously at the livestock section and their processes for engaging with industry and moves to salvage something from what is a looming costly biosecurity breach for the state.

So one last time we will map out this time in detail what we think should happen so we can all move on and hopefully get the department back to working with all of industry and not just those parts that go along with it.

  1. Develop a Q and A letter to go to all producers.
    What does JD look like, what are the risks associated with lack of access to the vaccines, the importance of maintaining NLIS compliance, how to have peace of mind when buying cattle and managing JD (animal health declarations), what are the legal ramifications for false declarations on the animal health declaration, what to do if you suspect your neighbour has JD in their herd, what does it cost to test, what markets can’t I access if I have JD, what to do if your buying through saleyard.
  2. Send out a notification to all producers who may have received one of the animals which has moved off the JD property so they can be proactive in testing and monitoring. This should be relatively simple given NLIS accounts will have an email linked to it – all PICs which have received an animal should be informed that this has happened.
  3. Develop a strategy to deal with saleyard transactions.
  4. Establishment of a team and funding to ensure tracking of the location, infestation rates and compliance of JD, and JD management.
  5. Investigation into the feasibility of a mapping system similar to the ‘PESTFAX Map’ which the grain industry use to show the occurrence of pests and diseases that have been reported in WA.
  6. Examine the merits of establishing a reporting system similar to the one used by exporter’s to confirm JD PIC status, in order to have cattle cleared by growers for JD free markets.


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