21st September 2010

Industry-wide Co-operation Adds Value to £800,000 Project to Tackle Johne's Disease

Quality Meat Scotland is the lead industry partner in a research initiative focussed on Johne’s disease, a disease of major concern to the Scottish cattle industry.

Researchers, led by SAC, will work closely with industry partners in the new “Paraban” project. It is funded by the Scottish Funding Council, in partnership with Scottish Government.  The aim of the industry-wide effort is to develop the best and most cost effective approach to controlling the bacterium which causes Johne’s infection, Mycobacterium avium, subsp. Paratuberculosis.

 Announcing the project Professor George Gunn, Head of SAC’s Epidemiology Unit in Inverness, said: “This project is a response to industry demands. There is an increasing determination to understand how to tackle ParaTB effectively, develop best practice and to pass that knowledge on. It is a disease with real economic, health and welfare concerns for the livestock industry and one the whole sector wants to address."

 Johne’s is often called a "hidden disease". For every one animal showing obvious signs in a herd there can be 10-25 others with sub clinical infection, capable of infecting others. Those with severe weight loss and diarrhoea are the tip of the iceberg, less obvious are many more with poor production performance and infertility problems.

 While existing National Cattle Health Certification Standards have made progress the industry wants to improve the tests for Johne’s and needs better information on how the organism behaves here. Much of our present knowledge comes from countries like Australia yet it is known that Scotland’s wetter, colder climate suits the organism better.

The £800,000 SFC funding will be boosted in kind through the co operation of key industry partners. Organisations like Quality Meat Scotland and DairyCo will join the FSA, other industry representatives, major processors, retailers, vet practices, testing and a feed company. They will help researchers from SAC, University of Glasgow, University of Edinburgh and the Macaulay Institute gather samples and new data.

Volunteer “Champion” farmers and their vets will play a key role, allowing tests on their cattle and communicating new ideas to others. One of those is John Lohoar who manages the Aberdeen Angus herd at Macphies of Glenbervie, near Stonehaven. 

“Despite being involved in the health scheme for a number of years we are still not clear of Johne’s which means we cannot sell breeding heifers. We hope our involvement in this project will make a real difference to the control of this disease”.  

Prof Charlotte Maltin, QMS Science and Innovation Manager, said the involvement of “champion” farmers would play a very important role in bridging the gap between lab science and practical in-field steps to tackle the disease.

“The project is also a strong example of the benefits of different sectors of the industry working together. As well as establishing efficient cost effective approaches to Johne’s control the project should also deliver best practice guidelines and ensure these are understood throughout the whole production chain”.

“The result should mean better animal health, better animal welfare and much improved economic returns.”   


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