MPI pays $90 million

The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) has paid 86% of claims totalling $90million to date in farmer compensation for Mycoplasma bovis.

According to the latest figures from MPI more than 102,000 cattle and cows have been culled in the two years since the M. bovis eradication programme was launched.

Initial estimates were that about 126,000 animals, or about 1% of New Zealand's cattle population would be culled during the course of a multi-year surveillance and eradication strategy.

While the ultimate cost of dealing with the disease is high - the estimated economic cost is about $1billion - the cull itself is not significant in the context of an annual kill of more than 4million cows, calves, steers, heifers and bulls.

The eradication strategy involves surveillance and depopulation of infected cattle herds.

Last year, the M. bovis eradication programme pushed the year on year overall cow cull during the second quarter, traditionally the dairy industry's peak cull period, up from 470,000 to more than 537,000 cows. Those numbers could be as high again this year, according to Meat Industry Association (MIA) chief executive Tim Ritchie.

Mr Ritchie said the majority of stock under the MPI eradication programme were going to meat processors and were being processed as normal, with ''smaller batches'' for testing purposes.

''MPI is dealing directly with the meat processors on a commercial basis for the cull, though we provide an element of hygiene, for example with transport to ensure that livestock trucks that have transported cattle from infected farms are washed and cleaned.''

So far, 1125 claims for compensation had been received by MPI and a total of $77.1million has been paid out to 795 of those. Operational costs had amounted to about $155million to date.

Mr Ritchie said depopulation of herds in which M. bovis was detected was only expected to have a nominal impact on New Zealand beef production.

''It also doesn't affect the safety or quality of New Zealand meat products, either locally or for our export markets. It is present in other countries, but we are seeking eradication because of its potential impacts on farm production, animal health and also the relatively low infection rates.''

While those rates have been relatively stable, there were still 224 properties under ''notice of direction'', which restricted the movement of animals and goods off farm or ''active surveillance'', where actual testing for M. bovis had begun.

Of the 173 properties confirmed as having had the disease, 42 remain on the active list, including six in Southland and seven in Otago. Canterbury accounted for 20 properties, of which six were in Ashburton.

''Ultimately, it's in all our interests to ensure that the disease is under control,'' Mr Ritchie said.

-By Brent Melville

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