A new disease eradication scheme will be launched this week as the dairy industry looks to protect the €1.7bn of annual infant milk formula sales from a 'BSE-style' disaster.
There is a growing body of data linking Johne's with the debilitating Crohn's disease in humans, while the spread of Johne's in national cattle herds continues at an alarming rate.
Veterinary experts believe that up to 20pc of Irish herds - in both beef and dairy - are carrying the disease. Globally, it may be closer to 50pc in intensive dairy regions.
Although details surrounding the voluntary programme have been kept under wraps for months, the Farming Independent has learned that cost analysis by Teagasc's economics unit has estimated the total bill for the first seven-year period of the programme to be north of €85m.
The lion's share of the costings will be associated with the blood testing required from every animal over two years. It is envisaged that this could be rolled into the annual TB test, although the cessation of the brucellosis annual blood testing regime has increased the basic costs involved.
Overall, the costs per animal are estimated to be €5-6, but experts remained tight-lipped on the details ahead of Thursday's launch by Animal Health Ireland.
The body will be aware of the pitfalls of making this latest disease eradication drive a success given the difficulties encountered by the BVD eradication programme. It was hoped that a successful BVD programme would pave the way for farmer buy-in for the much more difficult task of eliminating Johne's, which experts believe could take over a generation to achieve.
Michael Collins is a professor of pathological sciences at the University of Winsconsin. He believes that the evidence linking the disease to the similar human wasting condition, Crohn's, will only continue to mount.
"There is a major clinical trial here on a new antibiotic for Crohn's. If it proves successful, it will be a major new piece of incriminating evidence to link the two conditions," he said.
The expert added that Ireland is a high risk region for the spread of Johne's now as dairy farmers attempt to rapidly expand.
"A lot of that expansion is likely to happen through buying in stock, sadly, without enough biosecurity. If you buy enough, sooner or later, you're going to buy in Johne's," said Mr Collins.
It is believed that the Department of Agriculture is considering initially footing the cost of the eradication programme. Prof Collins believes that this makes sense.
"The cost of eradicating Johne's should not be heaped on farmers because farmers with low incidences will not see any major improvement in their profit.
"The US government threw $260m (€233m) over 10 years at the disease, but when funding stopped, herd participation also stopped. This proves that Johne's is not a very costly disease for the farmer, but if it ever becomes an issue beyond the farm gate, then everyone will have to pony up," he said.
Programme aims to prevent 'BSE-style' disaster in infant milk formula sector