The successful eradication of hydatids, a disease that
caused significant numbers of deaths and hospital admissions in
New Zealand, was a great achievement - and one that went almost
unnoticed, Geoff Neilson says.
In 1971, Mr Neilson was elected to the Hydatids Council,
initially as a Young Farmers representative, and through his
involvement with the council contributed to both the
enhancement of sheep-meat quality and the eradication of the
With the demise of the council in the early 1990s, the need
arose for the sheep industry to focus on Cysticercus
ovis, which was not a human health risk but a
meat-quality issue which had the potential to erode market
share and income for farmers and meat companies.
Mr Neilson, now a retired farmer living in Mosgiel, was the
inaugural and only chairman of Ovis Management Ltd until his
retirement at the organisation's recent annual meeting.
The new chairman is Roger Barton, a sheep and beef farmer
from Greytown, in Wairarapa.
The non-profit organisation, which promoted control of sheep
measles, was established by and is funded by sheep meat
processors through the Meat Industry Association.
Meat Industry Association chairman Bill Falconer paid formal
tribute to Mr Neilson's lifetime commitment to the meat
industry at the red meat sector conference in Queenstown in
Hydatids was responsible for the deaths of 142 people in New
Zealand between 1946 and 1956, while 103 people were admitted
to hospital in 1953 alone. It caused "strife" and the cost to
the country was "huge", Mr Neilson said.
Caused by a tapeworm which lived in the gut of dogs, the
hydatids life cycle also involved an intermediate host which,
in New Zealand, was mainly sheep.
Humans could also be a host and hydatids posed a serious risk
to health through the formation of cysts in vital organs.
The Hydatids Council was a statutory body with powers under
the Hydatids Act and it was able to enforce its programme
across New Zealand.
The council never faltered on its objective to eradicate
hydatids and there was "a heck of a lot of satisfaction" in
seeing the decline of the disease. Dog owners and local
authorities could also be justifiably proud of the
achievement, Mr Neilson said.
Sheep measles was the common name given to lesions in sheep
and goats caused by an "intermediate stage" of a tapeworm
That parasite stage was also known as Cysticercus
ovis, while the "primary stage" of the parasite was a
tapeworm (Taenia ovis) which infected the intestine of
Sheep measles caused blemishes in sheep meat which could
result in downgrading or condemning of carcasses.
Of all the control measures for the prevention of sheep
measles, regular dog treatment was the most reliable and
simple to implement.
The programme to manage the level of sheep measles had been a
"huge success". When Mr Neilson became chairman, there was a
7% infection rate - and climbing - at meat processing plants,
and it was now down to 0.5%.
It had been supported by sheep farmers and dog owners but it
was also a continuing story of maintaining pressure for good
dog feeding, dog dosing and removing risk factors to ensure
markets were not threatened, he said.
Through his role as chairman, he was invited in 2007 by the
venison processors to set up and chair a company called
Johne's Management Ltd, structured on similar lines to Ovis
Management Ltd and that was an organisation he was still
The role of the company was to assist the New Zealand deer
industry in the management and subsequent control of Johne's
That involved the maintenance of a national database that
identified the disease at slaughter and working with Johne's
specialist veterinarians who could assist deer farmers to
implement on-farm control programmes.
Johne's disease was caused by a bacteria and was a very close
relative of the bacteria that caused tuberculosis in cattle.
It was a significant animal health issue worldwide in
developed livestock industries, particularly dairy, sheep and
deer, he said.
It was first diagnosed in farmed deer in New Zealand in 1979.
In 2011, economic analysis indicated the deer industry lost
about $9 million each year, primarily due to deaths occurring
on farm, sub-optimal production in sub-clinically affected
finishing stock and very slightly lower reproductive
performance in infected breeding stock.
Mr Neilson has been heavily involved in rural organisations
over the years, including serving as president of Otago
Federated Farmers and on the rural lobby organisation's
national council. He was a Nuffield Scholar in 1976.
His father, who died when he was 15, wanted his family to
receive either a formal education or acquire a trade. While
the young Geoff wanted to be a farmer, his father had him
"lined up as a plumber".
His mother supported his ambition and he worked on a farm at
Morton Mains for three years and then at Moonlight, in East
Otago, for 10 years, before he and his wife Ailsa had an
opportunity to buy a farm near Gore.
The family later shifted to South Otago to farm.
All that he had been involved with was only possible with the
support of his wife and family, he said.
Mr and Mrs Neilson retired to Mosgiel 10 years ago and while
retiring from farming was "a big wrench", he was
philosophical about the move.
"You've got to make it work.
When you make a decision, make it work," he said.