What do the farmers think about M. Bovis

Minister of Agriculture, Damien O'Connor, speaking at the Mycoplasma Bovis response meeting in Te Awamutu, Waikato. Photo: Catherine Fry.

On June 8, several hundred Waikato farmers gathered at the Te Awamutu Rugby Club for an update on the Mycoplasma Bovis response. The meeting covered the Government’s plan to eradicate the disease from New Zealand.

DairyNZ’s Sharon Morrell, Ministry for Primary Industries’ director of response Geoff Gwyn, MPI epidemiologist Evelyn Pleydell, Beef+Lamb NZ general manager Dave Harrison, the Rural Support Trust’s Wanda Leadbeater and Minister of Agriculture and Biosecurity, Damien O’Connor, presented at the meeting.

“A financial, political, organisational and scientific decision has been made to eradicate the disease,” said Damien. “New Zealand would be better off without it. It’s going to cost a lot of money but we’re giving it our best shot. It’ll be an issue of trust, there are still unknowns about the disease, but we believe we’ll be in a better space long term.”

A slideshow presentation covered what M. Bovis is and what we know about it to date; surveillance and tracking carried out so far; how testing will be carried out to identify and contain infected farms; methods intended to contain and eradicate the disease; and current statistics.

A detailed breakdown of this information is at: www.dairynz.co.nz/animal/cow-health/mycoplasma-bovis/

MPI’s Geoff Gwyn explained the planned phased eradication over a 10-year period, which will be achieved by culling of all cattle on identified infected farms. The estimated cost will be $886 million over 10 years – with 68 per cent of that cost carried by the Crown, and DairyNZ and Beef+Lamb NZ carrying the remaining 32 per cent. It would be more expensive to try and manage the outbreak. The $886 million includes $870m of operational costs including compensation, and $16m in industry impact.

Geoff stressed that farmers will receive “like for like” compensation if their farm requires the culling of animals. Extra staff have been brought in to process claims very fast with a view to maintaining the farm’s business model, and minimise the “hit they are taking for the team”.

The atmosphere in the room was quiet and tense, with those present obviously thinking deeply about the information they were hearing. The hour-long Question and Answer session after the presentation illustrated the concerns of Waikato farmers. Coast and Country News has documented some of the queries raised. The answers were valid as at June 8, 2018, but some may have been superseded by new information since then.

Isn’t the disease endemic already?

Damien O'Connor responded that he didn’t think so and eradication was still a viable option.

If we don’t know where it came from, how can we stop it coming back after eradication?

MPI’s Geoff Gwyn responded: “It’s an ongoing investigation. We can’t shut pathways without absolute proof that it is a route of entry”.

Surely we should put a lot of blame on NAIT non-compliance for it spreading? Every person should be responsible – farmers, carriers, stock agents, meat works all should insist all animals have tags.

Damien O’Connor responded: “There is no excuse not to be NAIT compliant. People will be fined for NAIT non-compliance going forward”.

With calving coming up, should we be closing the yards to stop animals mixing?

MPI’s Geoff Gwyn responded: “We can’t shut down farming as we know it. We must farm as normal but minimise the risks. No one should trade with lock-down farms”.

What about the school calf club days?

Beef + Lamb NZ’s David Harrison responded: “It’s sensible to avoid unnecessary risk, and it would seem better to minimise risk by considering lambs, goat kids or pets”.

Why aren’t we testing tonsils of all the beefies at the abattoirs?

Beef + Lamb NZ’s David Harrison responded: “Logistically this isn’t possible. We will test high risk farms and we are rolling out regular testing”.

Can the organism live outside animals? What is the best practice in yards and pastures? Mobs will be getting mixed in yards.

MPI veterinarian, Dr Eve Pleydell, responded: “The bacteria needs to be in the airways or udder. It is susceptible to drying out, sun, UV and disinfectant and can’t live out in the environment or pasture for long. It prefers cool, damp conditions. From one test we’ve established it can live outside the cow for 50-55 days, hence the 60-day fallow period on farms after culling”.

With NAIT compliance so low, how can you be sure testing is correct?

MPI’s Geoff Gwyn responded: “I believe it is variable rather than slow. Between farmer interviews, NAIT and farm records we can usually track animals”.

What about heavy machinery movement? Tankers, silage trucks? Do they have to be cleaned and who is responsible for cleaning them?

Beef + Lamb NZ’s David Harrison responded: “Again it is a matter of risk management. We can’t stop farm machinery and vehicle movement. Machines should be cleaned regularly, but logically something like a maize harvest with no cattle near will be a lower risk”.

Can calves get it through the colostrum from their mother?

MPI veterinarian, Dr Eve Pleydell, responded: “Yes it could get it from the first suck. But it is important to use colostrum. On a farm that has tested positive, it would be advisable to treat milk for calves. If you’re getting milk from other farms milk should definitely be treated”.

What about non NAIT animals on lifestyle blocks?

MPI’s Geoff Gwyn responded: “This is a hard audience to get information to. They need to comply too. We need to make NAIT more user-friendly”.

MPI veterinarian, Dr Eve Pleydell, responded: “Two lifestyle properties have tested positive so far – and the animals were traced to dairy farms”.

What about bulls being brought onto the property?

Beef + Lamb NZ’s David Harrison responded: “I think it’s about understanding what you are bringing onto your farm. Look at the origin herd health status, management and breeding histories”.

Can it be present in effluent?

MPI veterinarian, Dr Eve Pleydell, responded: “It’s the million-dollar question. We are looking at treating effluent. Our international contacts can give us no definitive answer”.


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