PrimeCut: Four steps forward, half step back …

Fresian dairy cow
One of New Zealand's many healthy fresian dairy cows, of which there are many. Just 67 dairy farms are currently under restriction. Credit: brackish_nz

The red meat sector took four steps forward over the past month, but the going got tougher towards the end.

It started as a bold month of May for the sector. Beef + Lamb NZ launched the new Origin Brand, followed up with a new environmental strategy for sheep and beef farmers and Deer Industry NZ released its own new Environmental Management Code of Practice for deer farmers. Lamb also had plenty of coverage in the run up to a very successful National Lamb Day, which saw the meat being served around the world to celebrate the day the first frozen sheepmeat carcases landed in the UK in 1882.

More recently though, we’ve taken a half step back with the furore about Mycoplasma bovis (MP. bovis), the bacterial disease which causes cattle lameness, untreatable mastitis and calf pneumonia among other things.

Watching our dairy farmers struggling to understand the new government’s approach to handling and communicating about the complex disease and how it may affect their lives and businesses has been heart-breaking. Our thoughts are with all those affected. Cabinet’s decision for phased eradication this week made jointly with the dairy/red meat sector will hopefully have delivered some more certainty about the scale of the task ahead. It is time now to get on with the work that must be done.

Although primarily focused on dairy, there are few ramifications for beef. Twenty-four thousand cattle have already been culled and handled easily within the meat processing plants’ current capacity. The numbers projected through the Ministry for Primary Industries’ epidemiological modelling suggest 126,000 more cattle may need to be culled over the next two years – it sounds a lot, but is actually less than five percent of the total number of beef cattle that were processed in the 2016 year, so should have a fairly minor effect on quantities or prices.

There is no doubt this is a serious animal health and welfare concern for the animals, and also immensely stressful for the farmers involved, but MP. bovis is not a human health or food safety issue for our meat exports. It is also already present in many of our export markets. It has, however, delivered a warning shot over our bows as officials found so many farmers had not complied with National Animal Identification and Tracing (NAIT) systems for cattle. Those that had were cleared through the system quickly and easily, however. It is ESSENTIAL for all that every red meat farmer complies with requirements and is vigilant about the origin of animals arriving onto properties.

The Minister’s overhaul of the NAIT programme announced recently will take in 38 recommendations for improvement of the system. MPI will be working more closely with OSPRI, NAIT will be policed much more effectively and there will be focus on making the system easier to use, including smart-phone applications. Twenty-three improvements are being introduced immediately, the remainder need to be made to the legislation.

In short, meat … is … food and we must have the best traceability possible to ensure trust. This is part of the reason why the Red Meat Profit Partnership’s NZ Farm Assurance Programme, which now has 14 meat processors signed up to it, alongside its trials of the Electronic Animal Status Declarations via a smartphone app, are so important for the sector. If you’re a beef, sheep or deer farmer, and haven’t already, take a look at how you can sign up for accreditation at www.rmpp.co.nz.

With herd moving day tomorrow (Gypsy Day, 1 June), where cattle are moved from milking to dry stock and winter pastures, we’re already almost in the next production year.

This is a very stressful time for the industry and those affected deserve compassion. Red meat farmers will be keeping an eye on their mates and colleagues. There is little to be gained in assigning blame now at what, how or who, went before, rather to point at what must be done now to move ahead.

You’ll be able to learn more about the latest matters affecting the red meat sector at the eighth Red Meat Sector Conference, which will be held in Napier on 29-30 July.

Maybe see you there?

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