There are currently no farms infected with the cattle disease Mycoplasma bovis, halfway through New Zealand’s 10-year eradication project.
Biosecurity and Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor said the last known infected property in Mid Canterbury has been destocked and declared disease-free, taking NZ to zero confirmed infections.
“Five years of hard work, sacrifice and collaboration with MPI, DairyNZ and Beef+Lamb NZ have brought us to this milestone on the road to eradication,” O’Connor said.
The eradication bid began in 2018 and has seen almost 184,000 cattle culled, 280 farms depopulated, nearly 3000 farms subject to movement controls and many undergoing on-farm testing.
“The programme has touched nearly every farming community across the country.”
The programme has cost more than $650 million to date and is on track to total over $800m, but allowing M bovis to become endemic would have cost an estimated $1.3 billion in lost production in the first 10 years alone.
O’Connor said the outbreak peaked with 40 infected properties across the country and while there have been periods without any infections, this is the first time there have been no cases or investigations.
But it is not yet eradicated, and O’Connor said testing of bulk milk and beef in meat plants will continue.
He said he has no regrets about setting out to be the first country to eradicate the disease.
“Looking at what we have achieved together over the last five years, I am confident we made the right decision.
“We always knew it wouldn’t be easy, especially for the farmers affected, but when you looked at the impact that living with M bovis has on animal welfare and on farmers, we knew we had to try.”
O’Connor acknowledged the pain of those farmers who have had herds culled, thanking them for their co-operation and hoping they understand that it was better to try to eradicate M Bovis than to live with it.
Overseas experience showed that living with the disease would have required significant changes to NZ farming systems, with the resulting increase in mastitis, lameness and abortion compromising NZ’s efficiency.
O’Connor said the milestone is even more remarkable given there was no eradication template officials could pick up and adopt, with the whole system having to be designed from the ground up.
The response has not been perfect and he said it has highlighted the need for vigilance in tracking animal movements through NAIT and heightened on-farm biosecurity, something he fears farmers have allowed to slip.
While the MPI will continue to provide oversight of the response, O’Connor said OSPRI will take over its management via a soon-to-be developed National Pest Management Plan (NPMP) for M Bovis, similar to that for bovine tuberculosis.
“We’ll be consulting with farmers and the public about the exact shape of the NPMP later this month,” he said.
He has had an assurance from OSPRI that earlier issues with tracking livestock movement have been addressed.
O’Connor said all indicators – from bulk milk testing to beef herd surveillance – give him confidence that the 10-year eradication programme is working.