Charges for farmer at centre of 'M. bovis' outbreak

The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) is refusing to comment on charges laid against the Southland dairy farmer at the centre of the Mycoplasma bovis outbreak.

This week, Stuff reported Alfons Zeestraten would appear in the Invercargill District Court in late November.

Mr Zeestraten was reported to have said he was innocent and would fight the MPI charges.

Late yesterday, law firm Chapman Tripp, acting for Mr Zeestraten and his wife Gea, confirmed the MPI charges related to importation of farm equipment in January, but did not relate to the outbreak of Mycoplasma bovis, discovered here in July 2017.

Chapman Tripp said no further comment would be made, as the matter was now before the courts.

Similarly, when contacted yesterday, an MPI spokeswoman said the matter was before the courts and therefore MPI would not be making any comment.

Mycoplasma bovis was first detected in July last year on two properties owned in the Waimate district by the Van
Leeuwen Dairy Group.

Months later, it was revealed that Southern Centre Dairies, owned by Dutch couple the Zeestratens, who have been dairy farming in New Zealand since 1999, was believed to be where the disease first took hold.

In March, search warrants were executed on several properties - including in Southland - relating to possible breaches of legislation.

Last month, Biosecurity New Zealand's director of response, Geoff Gwyn, said MPI was due to issue a press release in relation to the outcome of those searches.

But it found out another regulatory agency had an interest in that process and so it had been ''parked up'' until that agency did what it needed to.

Potential introduction pathways for the disease included imported live cattle, imported frozen semen, imported embryos, imported feed, imported veterinary medicines and biological products, imported used farm equipment and other imported live animals.

The latest update from MPI showed a Waikato dry stock farm and a beef finishing operation in Canterbury were the latest to be confirmed as infected properties (IPs). Both properties were connected to the previously known IPs through movements of stock.

There were 37 active IPs, made up of 20 dry stock properties, 16 dairy farms and a lifestyle property.

As of this week, MPI had lifted a total of 225 legal notices for M. bovis (both Notices of Direction and restricted place notices).

Those farms had either undergone surveillance and tested negative, or completed depopulation and cleaning and finished a 60-day stand-down period.

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