Feed ban must be obeyed

Lucy Collins. Photo by Rick Bayne

Throughout Australia, the feeding of any material taken from a vertebrate animal (with a handful of exceptions, such as milk) to ruminants is banned.

This is because our country has the enviable global recognition of being free from bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), also known as mad cow disease.

This is a reputation of immense value for our beef industry, and one that relies on all of us doing the right thing on-farm to protect and maintain.

Although still poorly understood, BSE is an irreversible and progressive neurological disorder of cattle that results from ingestion of an abnormal protein called a prion, which is not destroyed by heat or cooking.

Infected cattle appear unbalanced, are prone to falling and can show signs of aggression or frenzy before inevitable death (hence the colloquial name mad cow disease).

There is also a similar disease in sheep known as scrapie.

With cases suspected in the United Kingdom in the 1970s and peaking in the 1990s, BSE is highly suspected to have originated as a result of feeding cattle meat and bone meal containing prions.

It is not known how prions first emerged, however it’s generally agreed that the outbreak was then amplified and spread throughout the UK by the continued feeding of rendered, prion-infected animal meals to young calves.

Subsequently, a strong association was discovered between humans eating suspected infected animal material (such as beef or lamb) and the development of similarly progressive and fatal neurological signs over time.

The human prion disease is known as variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD). There has never been a case of vCJD that did not have a history of exposure within a country where BSE was occurring.

This association had huge implications for the British beef industry that are still being felt today, resulting in the culling of 4.4 million cattle in the UK and global export bans.

Thankfully, after the introduction of culling, feed bans, surveillance and public health measures, annual human and animal case numbers dropped sharply and remain extremely low today.

Introduced in 1996 by our livestock and stock feed industries, the Australian Ruminant Feed Ban provides assurance to our international markets that beef and beef products from Australia continue to meet the highest standards for safe human consumption.

Each state and territory has legislation surrounding Restricted Animal Material (RAM), which describes animal-based meals and materials that must not be fed to ruminants.

Importantly for dairy farmers, RAM includes eggs (which, alarmingly, numerous Facebook discussion groups indicate is still a commonly suggested colostrum replacer or ‘treatment’ for scouring calves), and unaccredited used cooking oil (a seemingly cheap and available fix for dusty crushed grain).

Recycled cooking oils should only be sourced from establishments that are accredited to the National Standard for Recycling of Used Cooking Fats and Oils Intended for Animal Feeds by the Australian Renderers Association (ARA). These can be found on the AUSMEAT website.

If selling animals, your National Vendor Declaration (a legal document) includes questions about whether they have been fed animal products or RAM, and must always be answered honestly.

Compliance may be checked during your dairy audit, and if caught feeding RAM, a marker is placed on your Property Identity Code (PIC).

Exposed animals cannot be slaughtered in most abattoirs. Some states also have hefty fines for Ruminant Feed Ban non-compliance.

Given many farmers I know also tend to keep an animal for the freezer themselves, the health and safety of your family should also provide additional motivation to ensure RAM is not being fed to any of your cattle.

Lucy Collins is completing her Dairy Residency with University of Melbourne. She works as an on-farm veterinarian for Apiam Animal Health, and alongside her husband on his family’s dairy farm in south-west Victoria. She is a 2021 Nuffield Scholar supported by Gardiner Dairy Foundation. Comments, feedback and suggestions can be sent to: lucy.collins@apiam.com.au