USDA recently announced a new way of detecting Johne's disease in cattle.
Johne's (pronounced YO-knees), also known as Paratuberculosis, is estimated to cost the U.S. dairy industry more than $220 million each year. It also affects sheep, goats, deer and other animals, causing diarrhea, reduced feed intake, weight loss and sometimes death.
Microbiologists at the Agricultural Research Service National Animal Disease Center in Ames, Iowa, discovered an antibody that's 100% specific in detecting the disease. This is the first time a specific antibody that binds only to Mycobacterium avium subspecies paratuberculosis, the pathogen that causes the disease, has been discovered. The scientists were even awarded a patent for the antibody.
Previous efforts to detect Johne's were hampered because all antibodies used to identify MAP strains also reacted to environmental mycobacteria. Some of those antibodies also would react to bovine tuberculosis pathogens and caused false-positive results.
An accurate Johne's test would definitely help a farmer nail those positive shedders so they could be removed from the herd.
Some questions arise, however, with this news announcement. How many dairy farmers and their veterinarians will use the new test when it becomes commercially available? Will the public demand testing when they learn of the test's accuracy? Will there be an indemnity program established to help affected farms? What will be the dairy industry's public relations effort to explain the disease and the industry's reaction to it?
There would be a good possibility, if nation-wide testing occurred, that 10% or more of U.S. cattle would be slaughtered.
According to information on the website, Johne's Information Central:
• One out of 10 animals moving through livestock auction facilities has Johne's disease.
• The National Animal Health Monitoring Systems study, Dairy 2007, showed 68% of U.S. dairy operations infected with the Johne's bacteria. Dairy 2007 also suggested that at least one out of every four U.S. dairy operations may have a relatively high percentage of Johne's-infected cows in their herds.
• Although most U.S. beef herds are not infected with Johne's disease, it is estimated that eight out of 100 U.S. herds may be infected with this devastating disease.
The dairy industry must be ahead of the curve on this one. There has been a long-time concern about a possible link between Johne's in cattle and Crohn's disease in humans. If large numbers of dairy cattle start running through stockyards, people will start asking questions and making assumptions.
Let's hope the dairy industry is pro-active on this one.
For more information about Johne's, please visit www.johnesdisease.org/