Plan to eradicate Mycoplasma bovis

  • Government and farmers agree phased eradication plan
  • Swifter compensation for farmers promised
  • Estimated cost of $886m

Government and farming sector leaders have agreed to attempt the eradication of cattle disease Mycoplasma bovis from New Zealand to protect the national herd and the long-term productivity of the farming sector.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Agriculture and Biosecurity Minister Damien O’Connor say we have one shot at eradicating a disease that causes painful, untreatable illness in cattle.

The decision was taken collectively by Government and farming sector bodies after months of intense modelling and analysis to understand the likely impacts of the disease, the potential spread and the costs and benefits of eradication versus other actions.

“Today’s decision to eradicate is driven by the Government’s desire to protect the national herd from the disease and protect the base of our economy – the farming sector,” Jacinda Ardern said.

“We’ve worked hard to get the information to make this call and I know the past 10 months have been hugely uncertain for our beef and dairy farmers.

“Speaking with affected farmers in recent weeks it is obvious that this has taken a toll, but standing back and allowing the disease to spread would simply create more anxiety for all farmers.

“This is a tough call – no-one ever wants to see mass culls. But the alternative is to risk the spread of the disease across our national herd. We have a real chance of eradication to protect our more than 20,000 dairy and beef farms, but only if we act now.

“Today’s decision will provide some certainty, but at the same time will be terribly painful for those farmers who are directly affected. Both Government and our industry partners want those farmers to know support is there for them.

“We are committed to working in partnership with the farming sector to ensure its long-term success. Today’s move reflects how important the success of the dairy and beef industries is to the prosperity of all New Zealanders,” Jacinda Ardern said.

All decision-makers acknowledge that eradication of Mycoplasma bovis – which is possible because it is not widespread, infected properties are all connected through animal movements and there is just one strain of the disease out there – will be challenging and require collaboration.

Damien O’Connor said it was important all farmers showed a collective responsibility for the sake of the wider sector and get on-board with the eradication operation.

“We all agree that while there remains a chance to get rid of this disease, we should take it. It’s the only chance we’ll get.

“It won’t work without farmer support. In particular farmers need to be meticulous with animal movement records and the way they use NAIT. We have already begun improvements to make it easier to use

“I’ve also asked MPI to revisit the compensation process and they’ve developed a new streamlined approach for those whose animals are culled to enable a substantial payment within a matter of days.

“Farmer welfare is crucial and I’d like to thank the Rural Support Trusts for the work they’re doing. With this decision we know more help is needed and the Government and industry groups are committed to helping farmers through this stressful time.

“Mycoplasma bovis is a difficult disease to diagnose and to control. For this reason, it is possible that at some stage we may have to let the fight go and learn to manage it in our herds.

“We have a set of reassessment measures that, if met, would prompt us to re-evaluate the plan. These include finding the disease is more widespread than our surveillance and modelling anticipates or a property is found that pre-dates the earliest known infection of December 2015.

“Spring testing this year will give us the opportunity to reassess the feasibility of eradication when results are in come February, as Mycoplasma bovis is at its most detectable after calving,” said Damien O’Connor.

Eradication will involve:

  • Culling all cattle on all infected properties along with cattle on most restricted properties
  • All infected farms found in future will also be depopulated
  • Following depopulation, farms are disinfected and will lie fallow for 60 days after which they can be restocked
  • Intensive active surveillance, including testing and tracing, will continue to detect infected herds
  • There will be some flexibility for farmers in the timing of culling to offset production losses
  • An improved compensation claim process. MPI says a substantial part of a farmer’s claim for culled cows should now take 4-10 days, with a fully verified claim taking 2-3 weeks.

The full cost of phased eradication over 10 years is projected at $886 million. Of this, $16 million is loss of production and is borne by farmers and $870 million is the cost of the response (including compensation to farmers). We expect to do most of the eradication work in 1-2 years.

Government will meet 68 per cent of this cost and DairyNZ and Beef+Lamb New Zealand will meet 32 per cent.

The alternative option was for long-term management. This was projected at $1.2 billion. Of this, $698 million is the loss of production borne by farmers and $520 million of response costs.

To not act at all is estimated to cost the industry $1.3 billion in lost production over 10 years, with ongoing productivity losses across our farming sector.

If you have cattle you suspect may have Mycoplasma bovis, contact your vet or MPI on 0800 80 99 66. It’s important we find every last case and deal with it.