Could this on-farm health issue hit consumer confidence in dairy?

Catherine Hurley

Catherine Hurley

"Ireland as a nation should be doing something about Johne's Disease before consumer confidence is affected."

Kevin O’Sullivan of Cork-based Glasslyn Vets, said Ireland as a nation “should show we are doing something about Johne’s”.

He said a consumer confidence issue could develop with dairy products if there ever was a proven link between Johne’s and Crohn’s. Research in recent years has pointed towards possible links between Crohn's disease in humans and Johne's disease in cattle. 

The Cork vet said Ireland should show that we’re serious about tackling this issue and show we’re keeping Johne’s in our milk at the lowest possible level, keeping a competitive advantage over countries that are doing nothing about it.

Figures suggest that Johne's disease may be in 50pc of dairy herds in intensive production areas as research into the link between Crohn's and Johne's continues.

Mike Collins, a professor in Pathobiological Sciences at the University of Wisconsin, said previously that: "I think it's fair to say that every major dairy exporting country in the world has a problem with Johnes. We've had it in the US since the 1900s, and now it's effectively endemic because it is present in 91pc of dairy herds."

What is Johne’s Disease?

Johne’s disease is an infectious bacterial disease of cattle and other ruminants. Cattle usually become infected during the early weeks of life following the consumption of milk or food contaminated with the bacteria, which are shed in the dung or milk of infected adult cattle.

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Infection develops slowly and clinical signs of the disease may not show until the animal is 5-6 years. The signs of disease vary depending upon the stage of infection but begin with reduced productivity followed by weight loss, scour and ultimately emaciation and death.

There is no effective treatment for Johne's but the spread of infection can be controlled.

What can we do to control spread of infection?

•              Avoid pooling of colostrum/milk where any of the sources could be infected cows

•              Prevent calf exposure to infected milk and infected faeces

•              Animals that test positive on blood or milk should be prioritises for culling

•              Monitor the levels of Johne’s disease in your herd through blood or milk testing

Kevin said that it will be difficult to eradicate the disease completely due to the false negatives in testing. “To be confident in the results of Johne’s testing, there should be a series of tests over several years”.

“An animal that is in the early stages of the disease and is carrying Johne’s can often test negative,” said Kevin.

Blood and milk tests for Johne’s disease detect the antibody response of the animal to the bacteria that causes Johne’s Disease. However, this response typically does not develop for some years after infection.

Animal Health Ireland is currently piloting a voluntary dairy herd Johne’s disease programme. Participating milk processors have committed to providing financial support at the level of at least €100 towards the costs of animal testing. 

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