Red meat sector commits funds for mycoplasma bovis containment

Damien O'Connor
Damien O'Connor.

Red meat sector bodies, Beef + Lamb NZ Ltd and the Meat Industry Association, along with DairyNZ, have committed $11.2 million towards operational costs for the containment of the cattle bacterial disease mycoplasma bovis.

Although the disease, which is relatively new in New Zealand but common in other countries such as Australia, the US and Europe, does not infect humans and there is no food safety risk, it is an animal welfare and productivity issue for dairy and beef cattle.

Minister of Agriculture and Biosecurity Damien O’Connor has welcomed a joint Government and industry commitment to funding the Mycoplasma bovis outbreak response.

Funding of $85 million for operational and compensation costs for the outbreak response, beginning 1 July 2017 to the end of the current financial year, was approved by Cabinet yesterday. The amount includes $10 million already approved in December last year and industry funding.

The Ministry for Primary Industries estimates that total operational costs of $35 million and compensation liabilities of $60 million will be required until a decision on whether or not to eradicate the disease is made.

Since Mycoplasma bovis was found in July last year, MPI has spent $10 million on the operational response and $2.5 million on compensation claims.

Industry bodies DairyNZ, Beef + Lamb New Zealand and the Meat Industry Association have committed $11.2 million between them towards operational costs.

“This is a sign of a healthy Government-industry relationship and allows us to continue to contain the disease to determine its full spread, keeping the option of eradication open until that decision is made in a few weeks,” according to O’Connor, who says it has been a particularly challenging time for everyone and in particular those caught up in this disease.

“The animal tracing to determine the spread is ongoing and poor uptake of the National Animal Identification and Tracing scheme (NAIT), especially for farm-to-farm animal movements, has slowed this work considerably.

“I am heartened by the industry contribution as we work together to give ourselves the best possible shot of getting rid of this disease.”

Representatives from MIA, B+LNZ and DairyNZ, along with Deer Industry NZ, are part of the steering committee brought together by the Minister to review the NAIT programme. This has considered a wide range of topics, ranging from animal location and animal movement recording, assignment of NAIT number, tag readability, replacement and retention, tag visual coding, new tag technologies, the roles and responsibilities of user groups under the NAIT legislation, NAIT system enhancements, user experience, exemptions and their implications, compliance, education and existing regulatory provisions. The recommendations are currently being finalised for wider consultation.

MPI’s work programme is driving to a decision on mycoplasma bovis eradication being made in late March to early April – understanding the extent of the spread through the bulk milk testing and animal tracing is key to this.

A significant piece of work is under way to look at the technical feasibility of eradication and cost benefit of eradication versus long-term management. Either option will require additional funding.

O’Connor has also asked officials to explore the feasibility and implications of making the North Island Mycoplasma bovis free, given the large majority of infected properties are in the South Island.

There are currently 24 active infected properties (which are under movement restrictions). There have been 29 properties confirmed with infection since the response began but some have been amalgamated into one unit, or had restrictions lifted following depopulation and cleaning.

A total of 42 properties are under Restricted Place notices (includes the infected properties), 54 on Notice of Direction and 741 under surveillance. A total of 51 compensation claims have been received with 10 paid in part or in full.

Opposition primary sector spokespeople, Nathan Guy and Barbara Kuriger say the long-awaited funding to fight the outbreak will be welcome news for farmers, but they question how quickly compensation will be paid out.

Kuriger, the National Party biosecurity spokesperson, is urging farmers to lodge their claims for compensation. “So far it seems that just 51 have made claims for compensation out of 1,500 that have potentially been affected.

“Of those, just 10 have been paid in full or in part so I’m urging all affected farmers to lodge a claim and get themselves in the system,: she says.

Cattle that are slaughtered as part of the Mycoplasma bovis response operation are processed. Before leaving the farm, they are assessed by veterinarians to confirm they are fit for transport. At the processing plants, MPI veterinarians assess the health of each animal before slaughter. As with standard processing, any animals that are sick, severely injured, or have any medication in their system are not processed for human consumption. This is a requirement of New Zealand law. All animals must also be examined after they’re slaughtered. This is to ensure the meat is safe and suitable for consumption.

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