Government and the dairy/red meat sector have decided to “take the best shot” at phased eradication of the Mycoplasma bovis (Mp. bovis) cattle disease currently affecting New Zealand’s dairy herd. Beef farmers will need to be aware, look out for signs of the disease and support the effort and each other.
The collective decision has been taken by government together with industry bodies and was confirmed at a Cabinet Meeting yesterday morning by the coalition government, to protect the national herd and the long-term productivity of the farming sector.
Mp. bovis is a bacterial disease that afflicts cattle, causing animal health and welfare issues, including lameness and swollen joints, untreatable mastitis, pneumonia in calves and abortions. It is present in most other countries around the world, including Australia, Ireland and the US. There are no food safety or human health issues associated with the disease. Hard evidence suggests it first arrived in New Zealand in December 2015/January 2016, though the actual origin remains unclear. There are now 67 of New Zealand’s 20,000 dairy and beef farms under restriction, 35 of which are infected and 22 have already been disinfected.
If the phased eradication programme over the next two years is successful, New Zealand will be the first country in the world to contain the disease. It will also be the largest biosecurity response in New Zealand’s history, with kiwifruit PSA second.
Bulk milk testing will take place at the next spring milking in November/December as MP. bovis is most detectable after calving. Results from that will determine the success, or otherwise, of the agreed programme and determine the next steps.
Meat processors handled 2.6 million cattle in the year to end June 2016, so have had the capacity to easily accommodate the required culling of the 24,000 affected livestock to date. Over the next two years, Ministry for Primary Industries’ (MPI) projections, arrived at through epidemiological modelling, suggest the culling of an additional 126,000 stock – under five percent of the 2016 annual total. Processors will also be expected to meet extra requirements such as more thorough cleaning of trucks and also perhaps some minor reconfiguration of chains.
Arriving at the decision
The three options on the Cabinet table were phased eradication, long-term management or “do nothing,” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern explained to journalists at a press conference yesterday afternoon. This also included Minister of Agriculture and Biosecurity Damien O’Connor, B+LNZ chairman Andrew Morrison, Federated Farmers president Katie Milne and representatives from DairyNZ, the Rural Support Trust and Rural Women NZ.
“Today’s decision to eradicate is driven by the Government’s desire to protect the national herd from the disease and protect the base of our economy – the farming sector,” said Ardern.
“We’ve worked hard to get the information to make this call and I know the past 10 months have been hugely uncertain for our beef and dairy farmers.”
After speaking with affected farmers in recent weeks it was obvious to the Prime Minister that the outbreak has taken its toll, she said.
“This is a tough call – no one ever wants to see mass culls. But the alternative is to risk the spread of the disease across our national herd. We have a real chance of eradication to protect our more than 20,000 dairy and beef farms, but only if we act now.
She acknowledged the pain that will be felt by the farmers who are directly affected.
“Both Goverment and our industry partners want those farmers to know support is there for them.
“We are committed to working in partnership with the farming sector to ensure its long-term success. Today’s move reflects how important the success of the dairy and beef industries are to the prosperity of all New Zealanders,” the Prime Minister said.
“I do not wish to look back and say I wish we had tried harder.”
Phased eradication “best shot we have”
The phased eradication option was chosen because it was deemed to be “the best shot we have at eradication, if we don’t do it now the chance has gone,” MPI director of readiness and response Geoff Gwyn said in a briefing session, prior to the press conference.
It has taken some time to gather all the relevant information necessary for the ‘elusive’ organism that can remain dormant for periods, only to surface at times of stress.
“We have done a lot of work and now understand where it is and where it isn’t,” he said.
What has been established is that the outbreak is not widespread, the infected properties are a network of dairy farms connected through animal movements and, thanks to DNA profiling, it seems there is just one strain of the disease to deal with. The key risk is prolonged animal contact, said Gwyn.
Damien O’Connor said it was important all farmers showed a collective responsibility for the sake of the wider sector and to get on board with the eradication operation, which won’t work without farmer support.
“In particular, farmers need to be meticulous with animal movement records and the way they use the National Animal Identification and Tracing (NAIT) programme. We have already begun improvements to make it easier to use.
“I’ve also asked MPI to revisit the compensation process and they’ve developed a new streamlined approach for those whose animals are culled to enable a substantial payment with a matter of days.
Eradication will involve culling all cattle on all infected properties along with cattle on most restricted properties. All infected farms found in future will also be depopulated. Following depopulation, farms are disinfected and will lie fallow for 60 days after which they can be restocked, intensive active surveillance –including testing and tracing – will continue to detect infected herds and there will be some flexibility for farmers in the timing of culling to offset production losses. For example, if they wish to milk out a season and then have their farms depopulated that may be an option.
Current Restricted Places will also be depopulated on the basis of disease risk and farmers will have the same choice as those on infected properties. Properties under Notice of Direction will undergo intensive testing to determine as quickly as possible if the herd is positive for MP.bovis. If negative the farm will be released from controls but if positive then the farm will be treated as an infected property and the farmer will be given the same choice about timing for depopulation.
These will also be an improved compensation claim process. MPI says a substantial part of a farmer’s claim for culled cows should now take four to 10 days, with a fully verified claim taking two to three weeks.
O’Connor has also announced fifty more staff, a new field HQ and the appointment of a science adviser today.
“Today 25 new Incident Control Point managers enter the field after completing training yesterday,” the Minister says. “These case managers are appointed to work one-on-one with affected farmers under movement controls. They support farmers with information on the practical aspects of the controls. A further 25 will undergo training in coming weeks, greatly boosting capacity to help those farmers affected by the disease.”
The new staff are on top of the 250 MPI already has undertaking the work. MPI’s compensation team was also recently increased from 22 to 30 and is expected to double in size as the response progresses, O’Connor explains.
Dr John Roche has been appointed as science advisor and is tasked with researching new tools for the fight against Mp. bovis and heading up the new science strategic advisory group for the animal disease. Roche has a PhD in ruminant nutrition from the National University of Ireland and has most recently worked as a principal scientist at DairyNZ and adjunct professors in animal science at Lincoln University.
“There has been little international investment in science around this disease so the group will look into testing developments to detect Mp. bovis in individual cows, grow understanding of the disease and identify opportunities to support the New Zealand eradication operation,” says O’Connor.
Eradication is projected at an estimated $886 million, comprised of $870 million for the cost of the response and $16 million for farmer compensation. This will be broken down between government (68 percent) and DairyNZ/B+LNZ (32 percent). Most of the eradication work is expected to be done over the next two years. The dairy/beef industries’ costs of around $278 million will be based on Government Industry Agreement (GIA) principles, with the majority to be borne by the dairy sector.
“The split between dairy and beef is being worked through under the GIA framework as mandated by farmers, but we expect the beef industry’s contribution to be very small due to the relative value of the industries involves and because the impact on beef production is expected to be limited,” explains B+LNZ chief executive Sam McIvor.
The alternative option of long-term management was projected in MPI modelling at $1.2 billion. Of this, $698 million was the loss of production borne by dairy and beef farmers and $520 million of response costs.
To not act at all was estimated to cost the dairy/beef sector $1.3 billion in lost production over 10 years, with ongoing productivity losses across New Zealand’s farming sector.
Farmer welfare important
All bodies stressed the importance of farmer welfare at this very stressful time.
“This has been a difficult decision to reach, and we acknowledge it won’t please all farmers,” says B+LNZ chairman Andrew Morrison.
“As a Southland farmer near to one of the epicentres, I am well aware of the impact of this response on farmers, their families and our communities,” he said, adding there is only a limited window in which to attempt eradication.
“Farms that are infected, or are under movement restrictions are under huge pressure and the uncertainty and anxiety spreads much wider than those directly affected, right across our rural communities. Today’s decision provides certainty for the sector on those next steps.
“For Beef + Lamb NZ, it is fundamentally important in a close decision like this that we have the opportunity to review the phased eradication approach at defined trigger points to ensure the course we are following makes sense,” said Morrison.
B+LNZ’s involvement in the collective decision making around the phased eradication of Mp. bovis has been important in ensuring the interests of beef farmers are represented and taken into account, says B+LNZ chief executive Sam McIvor.
“While there will be difficult times ahead for farmers, B+LNZ is committed to continuing to be a strong voice for farmers and will work with Government to ensure a robust support system is in place for those affected by MP. bovis, as well as complete transparency around decision making.
During the phased eradication programme, B+LNZ will increase its assistance for the Rural Support Trust to help farmers who are affected, as well as increasing our support activities including providing practical on-farm advice to manage biosecurity risks specific to MP. bovis.
“We will also work alongside government to source the significant number of additional personnel that will be needed to pursue eradication,” says McIvor.
“B+LNZ will also be urging government and industry partners to fast-track improvements to NAIT and the introduction of electronic Animal Status Declarations (eASDs) which we know are critical tools for improving traceability in our industry.”
There will be a comprehensive series of meetings across the country over the next few weeks led by MPI to ensure all farmers have a clear understanding of the plan from here forward and the best actions for individuals farmers to protect themselves. B+LNZ strongly encourages farmers to attend these.
More information on the meetings will be available on B+LNZ’s website www.beeflambnz.com as soon as it is available.