'M. bovis' eradication initiatives vindicated

An independent Technical Advisory Group (TAG) believes achieving eradication of Mycoplasma bovis is still feasible.

The group's latest report was released yesterday by the Ministry for Primary Industries in which it supported the changes the M. bovis programme had made over the past six months.

Given available data, achieving biological freedom from M. bovis was feasible provided the number of undetected infected herds was not large, infection had not established and spread within the non-dairy sector, and that the rate of transmission to new herds was reduced via continued shortening in the intervals from infection to application of movement controls, it said.

The group acknowledged substantial changes were being made to the programme during preparation of the report, including in the directorate structure, resourcing, improvements and streamlining of operating processes, implementation of new information management systems, and increased resourcing of communications.

Modelling of estimated dissemination rates (an estimate of the rate of forward movement of the disease) raised the possibility that prior to the operational changes which occurred in response to ''surge'' reports, the disease had been moving faster than the response.

The interval between the likely time of infection and that herd being identified and placed under a notice of direction (NOD) was averaging 10 months with some cases taking two or more years.

It has been estimated that an average of 27 but, in some instances up to 200, onward animal movements had occurred from infected properties over the period that the herd was infected. Those delays provided the opportunity for infection to continue to spread.

It remained unclear whether the changes in the programme had resulted in a reduction in the interval from infection to placement of a NOD due to the lack of appropriate metrics available, the report said.

The effect of the slowing of the casing, tracing and surveillance activities that occurred over summer 2018-19 might not be fully apparent for six to 12 months.

However, it was ''highly likely'' more farms became infected over this time than would have been if more rapid identification of risk movements and application of movement control had occurred.

TAG acknowledged the efforts undertaken by the programme to improve communication, including efforts by key staff to attend face-to-face meetings, the establishment of regional groups including mayors, presentations by programme staff at technical meetings and via teleconferences, and the expansion of the regional veterinarians role to include communications with local vets.

Feedback indicated a perception among some the programme historically was not sufficiently responsive to concerns or inputs by stakeholders.

TAG recommended systems to record, act upon, and report back on information provided by farmers, clinical vets and other stakeholders be implemented and monitored.

Key performance indicators around the communication strategy should be developed, monitored and acted upon if not being met. Further dialogue between the response teams and local clinical vets should occur.

The programme was developing surveillance systems for cattle outside the dairy sector. TAG saw that as a priority area given increasing evidence of infection in non-dairy herds.

In a statement, MPI director-general Ray Smith said the report provided an assurance the programme was working and that the right changes and improvements had been made in the past six months.

''The battle isn't won yet - we still have hard work to do and there will be more farms placed under restrictions while testing is conducted. We also know that there are areas, like compensation, where we need to continue to improve,'' he said.

More than $100million in compensation had been paid out and, for most people, the process was effective. However, there were some complex claims that were still taking too long and MPI was working on reducing that wait.

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