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Johne ’s Disease Research Consortium

Johne ’s Disease Research Consortium

A new joint venture aims to help New Zealand farmers manage the costly effects of the animal wasting Johne's disease, which is estimated to cost up to $88 million each year.

The Johne's Disease Research Consortium (JDRC) is a combined industry and Government initiative which will unite and accelerate Johne's disease research.

Animal Health Board Director and Intervet General Manager, Andrew MacPherson, who has been appointed as the Independent Chair of JDRC, said the aim was to develop and use the most efficient and effective tools to reduce the prevalence of Johne's disease on New Zealand farms.

The JDRC brings together Meat & Wool New Zealand, DairyNZ, DEEResearch, Massey University, Livestock Improvement, AgResearch, the University of Otago and the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology (FRST).

“This is disease has a significant impact on animal health and production," Agriculture Minister Jim Anderton said. "So this consortium is an excellent example of industry and government collaboration to make some serious gains in combating the production losses caused by Johne's Disease".

Over the next five years, the consortium will invest $2.2 million each year in the project.

The bacterial disease is spread by infected pastures and waterways and causes an immune reaction that can ultimately kill animals, especially young deer, by impairing the absorption of nutrients.

As well as its impact on animal health, Johne’s disease is believed to reduce production an estimated $40 million to $88 million a year.

The four approaches the consortium will use to combat Johne's disease are improved diagnostics, herd control, vaccination, and finding a gene-marker for resistance to the bacteria.

Farmers and vets do not yet have an easy-to-use test for Johne's disease and often verification is only made post-mortem.

“There are challenges to developing diagnostic tools,” Dr MacPherson said. “But if farmers can detect the disease, especially at sub-clinical levels, they can start to do something about it.

“Herd control involves giving farmers the management techniques, including identification, selection, isolation and culling management related to Johne's disease.”

Dr MacPherson added that current vaccines against Johne's disease can have side effects and may confuse the picture when it comes to Tb testing,

Research will also focus on gene makers. A gene-marker for Johne's disease resistance might be identifiable, as not all animals get the disease even when exposed to the bacteria.

“If the gene does not compromise production traits, selection using the marker could result in resistant stock. Johne's disease markers would be the final long-term solution for farmers.”

JDRC Manager, Jessie Chan, said the goal is the control or elimination of the disease.

"The tools must be cost effective and suitable for adoption by the farming sector."

The Meat Industry Association and Dairy Companies Association of New Zealand are associate participants.


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