By Mary van Andel, chief veterinary officer at the Ministry for Primary Industries
Much of the work veterinarians do is behind the scenes but underpins aspects of our economy, environment and way of life. Across New Zealand, veterinarians provide valuable technical expertise and are recognised as trusted advisers on a range of issues, including animal health and welfare, and disease surveillance and investigation. They play a key role in our biosecurity system.
A debt of gratitude is owed to the private veterinarian who first identified Mycoplasma bovis in NZ in 2017. Since those early and often difficult days, private veterinarians have made a significant contribution in identifying the index case and reporting cases of suspected disease, as well as undertaking on-farm testing and supporting their clients affected by the eradication programme.
If it had been left unchecked, M bovis could have cost the industry $1.2 billion over the first 10 years, with ongoing productivity losses across the farming sector and animal welfare concerns. As we near the halfway mark of our estimated 10-year eradication programme, we are aiming to move from controlling the last known pockets of the disease, to provisional absence. We are on track to become the first country to eradicate M bovis.
An important part of my role at the Ministry for Primary Industries is to identify ways to build relationships that bind our animal health community together to enable successful biosecurity partnerships. MPI is NZ’s largest employer of veterinarians, with 300 working in five of the nine business units, across all regions, including overseas postings.
The work extends beyond MPI and requires collaboration between private practitioners, industry representatives and the public veterinary service. An example of such collaboration is through MPI’s Animal General Surveillance Programme, which enables the early detection of exotic and emerging diseases. This programme relies on private veterinarians reporting the diseases. They’re on the ground and function as our first line of defence.
This collaboration is valuable for private veterinarians and their clients dealing with difficult and potentially high-risk cases. For the public veterinarians, the value is in how the partnership supports surveillance to ensure the health of NZ’s animal populations.
As events such as M bovis have shown, it’s essential that public and private veterinarians and industry have relationships in place to ensure that NZ’s animal health system serves the country’s day-to-day needs, as well as being ready for the challenges that may emerge in the future.
Veterinarians are also involved in emerging multidisciplinary work, such as One Health, which brings together experts from the fields of animal, human and environmental health to address some of society’s greatest health challenges, including infectious zoonoses like covid-19 and antimicrobial resistance.
The outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in Indonesia serves as a reminder that we need to have strong biosecurity measures in place both at the border and on farm. Covid-19 and M bovis have illustrated that, as a country, we are in a unique position to achieve ambitious goals on major health and animal welfare issues – but working together is the only way we can do this.
We must invest in strong relationships and connectedness today, to be able to face the challenges of the future.