New Zealand plans to eradicate Mycoplasma bovis

Government and farmers agree on phased eradication plan.

May 31, 2018

4 Min Read
New Zealand plans to eradicate Mycoplasma bovis

Following the discovery of Mycoplasma bovis in cattle earlier this year, the New Zealand government and farming sector leaders have agreed to attempt the eradication of the cattle disease from New Zealand to protect the national herd and the long-term productivity of the farming sector, according to a May 28 announcement.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Agriculture & Biosecurity Minister Damien O’Connor said the country has one shot at eradicating a disease that causes painful, untreatable illness in cattle.

The decision was taken collectively by the government and farming sector bodies after months of intense modeling 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,” 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.

“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," Ardern added. “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."

All decision-makers acknowledge that it will be challenging and require collaboration to eradicate M. 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 circulating.

O’Connor said it was important that 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," O'Connor said. “It won’t work without farmer support. In particular, farmers need to be meticulous with animal movement records. ... I’ve also asked MPI (the Ministry of Primary Industries) 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.

M. 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," O'Connor added. “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 modeling anticipates or a property is found that predates 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 M. bovis is at its most detectable after calving,” O’Connor said.

Eradication will involve:

* Culling all cattle on all infected properties along with cattle on most restricted properties;

* Depopulating all infected farms found in the future;

* Following depopulation, disinfecting farms and letting them lie fallow for 60 days, after which they can be restocked;

* Intensive active surveillance, including testing and tracing, for continuing to detect infected herds;

* Some flexibility for farmers in the timing of culling to offset production losses, and

* An improved compensation claim process. MPI said a substantial part of a farmer’s claim for culled cows should now take 4-10 days, with a fully verified claim taking two to three weeks.

The full cost of phased eradication over 10 years is projected to be $886 million (New Zealand). Of this, $16 million is loss of production and will be borne by farmers, and $870 million is the cost of the response (including compensation to farmers). The eradication work is expected to take one to two years.

The government will meet 68% of this cost, and DairyNZ and Beef+Lamb New Zealand will meet 32%.

Taking no action at all was estimated to cost the industry $1.3 billion in lost production over 10 years, with ongoing productivity losses across the New Zealand farming sector.

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