While New Zealand is not yet out of the woods, the Mycoplasma bovis eradication programme has reached its halfway mark meeting expectations.
But now, as the programme enters the critical phase of hunting down the last case of infection the country will need to keep a finger on the pulse, Biosecurity and Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor said.
In May 2018, the government announced NZ would work to eradicate M bovis in partnership with DairyNZ and Beef + Lamb NZ.
The 10-year programme is jointly funded by the government, 68%, and DairyNZ and BLNZ, 32%.
“We are on track. We are down to one infected property. We expect that to be cleared in a couple of weeks. We have been down to zero and we will get back to that but it will take everyone to keep the finger on the pulse,” O’Connor said.
“The expectation is that the next five years, even less, we will be able to say we are [M bovis] disease free.
“But nothing is guaranteed until we get through the next five years.”
O’Connor acknowledged there had been some “horrific scenarios” for many individual farmers because of uncertainty in the early stages.
“A lot of lessons have been learnt. At the beginning we were in catch-up. A lot of improvements have been made right across the board. The focus now is to keep ahead and ensure there is no lapse of practice creeping in.
“We must keep on top of it now, not sit back and take anything for granted.”
The programme is nearing the end of its delimiting stage before moving into stage two, provisional proof of absence – the holding pattern.
“This is when we can’t find any more [infection] but we are still doing the monitoring through the bulk milk tank [BTM] testing and ongoing background surveillance.”
The national surveillance programme, including the beef surveillance programme and the BTM testing, have provided confidence that M bovis is no longer widespread in NZ.
The surveillance programme has played a significant role in finding pockets of infection outside the known network.
The budget for the 10-year programme was $870 million.
From July 1 2018 to March 31 2023, $641m, 71.4% of the estimated total cost, was spent on eradication.
“There will be ongoing costs but they will taper off and I think we can come in under that $870m figure.”
O’Connor is quietly confident the programme’s goal will be reached, possibly even before the end of the next five years.
“The goal to eradicate has absolutely been worth it, the impacts of bovis have been worth the effort and I will continue to do what I think is right and that is to make sure at the end of five years we are clear.”
In the programme’s first five years 184,000 cattle off 280 farms were culled, from 210 farms in the South Island and 70 in the North, comprising 149 beef, 68 dairy and 63 others, including lifestyle properties.
A total of $239.7m in compensation from 2879 claims has been paid out.