Plan to rid NZ of 'M. bovis' now more valid

Mycoplasma bovis meetings have been hosted by the Ministry for Primary Industries this month in affected areas. Central Rural Life reporters Toni Williams and Sally Brooker attended the Ashburton and Oamaru meetings respectively.

The decision to try to eradicate Mycoplasma bovis is more valid now than when it was made last year, Geoff Gwyn says

The man leading the eradication project told a public meeting in Oamaru on April 11 that evidence gathered since the controversial decision was announced in May 2018 endorsed it.

''There was never a cast-iron guarantee. It was technically feasible,'' Mr Gwyn said.

Had eradication not been attempted and M. bovis became established in New Zealand's cattle population, it was estimated to cost $1300million in lost productivity over 10 years.

Last spring's bulk milk testing indicated the disease was not endemic here, a calf survey to check the national beef cattle herd did not find anything, and there appeared to be only one genetic strain present.

The eradication programme, run by the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI), DairyNZ, and Beef + Lamb New Zealand, has 370 staff and regional offices Christchurch, Oamaru, Invercargill, and Hamilton.

Tracking the disease was like spilling a bag of marbles, Mr Gwyn told about 100 people at the Ashburton meeting on April 10.

''We've picked up all the easy ones, we've lifted the furniture and we're right up the back under the fridge now trying to find the last ones.''

The public meetings followed several hours of discussions between MPI staff and farmers directly affected by the outbreak.

A farmer at the Ashburton public meeting said she had two calves known to have come from an infected herd, but had not received any communication about them. It was a common worry among farmers.

Although she had moved the two calves off-farm, she was concerned they would eventually be connected to a total of about 300 grazing stock arriving, or be carrying the disease and infect others.

Mr Gwyn said animals were prioritised using triage.

''Today was about listening to farmers and understanding how we can make this better, but I make no bones about it. Whatever we do, it's a hard time for the farmers.

''We can smooth that out as much as we can, but what you end up having is a not-so-silent business partner all of a sudden forced on you and is intimately involved in the running of your business.''

While the eradication programme was on track, some areas of the country -Mid Canterbury, South Canterbury-North Otago, and Southland - were disproportionately represented, he said.

There have been 165 properties confirmed with M. bovis, of which 58 were ''active'' - they were having their cattle slaughtered and livestock movements were restricted.

The other 107 have been depopulated and disinfected and were now deemed ''cleared''.

Otago had 22 confirmed - 11 active and 11 cleared.

Canterbury had 83 confirmed - 27 active and 56 cleared. However, Ashburton dominated the active category, Mr Gwyn said.

On April 10, Ashburton had 23 active and 44 cleared. There were 35 properties under notice of direction, with movement restrictions.

Mr Gwyn said he did not want to belittle the outbreak's seriousness, but 165 farms out of 24,000 in New Zealand was ''not a big number nationally''.

He expected as the ''casing and tracing'' continued in the next year or so, the figures would ''taper right off''.

Compensation of $57million has been paid out on more than 600 of the 900-plus claims received. About 750 more claims were expected.

The technical advisory group set up to assess the eradication programme has met four times.

''It gave us a solid B pass at the end of last year,'' Mr Gwyn said.

Recommendations for improvements were being taken up, including presenting the outbreak numbers more clearly in weekly updates.

More than 185 public meetings have been held since M. bovis was discovered in July 2017.

It was important the whole country understood the importance of the eradication programme, because its $900 million budget could equally be spent on teachers or hip replacements, he said.

Federated Farmers Mid Canterbury president Michael Salvesen said the eradication team was stymied by legislation, and the NAIT animal identification system was slower than it should be.

''They can't do what they're trying to do as quick as they want to, or as quick as we want it.''

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