The tracking of cattle disease Mycoplasma bovis shows that more farms than previously expected are likely to be affected by the disease, says Biosecurity Minister Damien O’Connor.
“While we always expected to find more properties, officials tell me that the numbers will likely exceed their earlier modelling. That modelling work is continuing and we will have a clearer picture in the next couple of weeks.
“MPI is continuing an intense programme of work with farming sector groups about the next best steps in the response – including containment and phased eradication.
“Testing to date shows all infected properties are connected in some way.
“The tracing of Mycoplasma bovis is made harder by the poor use of the national animal tracing system (NAIT). . .
Problems with the system and with compliance must be addressed.
Had all cattle been registered through NAIT the tracking of stock from farms with the disease would have been much faster.
A cull of 22,000 cows is currently under way, with nearly half, 11,000 animals, destroyed.
“That cull is necessary to reduce the disease’s spread through the national herd. I know farmers whose properties are under control restrictions face a difficult time. I’m working hard to ensure the Government and sector make the best possible decision with the best possible information regarding Mycoplasma bovis. I expect that decision will come in the next few weeks.
“Farmers should ensure any compensation claims they make related to Mycoplasma bovis are accurate, as it makes the process quicker. MPI and Dairy NZ have boosted the number of people working directly with farmers to assist in that process.
“As of close of play Wednesday 9 May, 38 farms were active infected places and another 40 were under Restricted Place Notice (i.e. considered highly likely to become infected). Nearly 1700 properties are of interest because of risk events such as animal movements, the supply of milk for animal feed or because they are adjacent to infected properties,” says Damien O’Connor.
Tracking potentially infected stock has been complicated by the black market in calf sales.
A black market in cattle sales and a lack of compliance with the National Animal Identification and Tracing (NAIT) regime by farmers is hampering the Ministry for Primary Industries’ efforts to respond to Mycoplasma bovis, which is now New Zealand’s largest animal surveillance issue.
“We do have, unfortunately, quite a black market of cows sold for cash,” Geoff Gwyn, director of readiness and response at the Ministry for Primary Industries, told the primary production committee at the parliament today. “We’re looking at bank records, taking affidavits.”
The Ministry must treat this very seriously.
The black market might be being used to avoid tax, which is serious enough, hampering tracking is more so.
Anything which makes tracing stock is bad enough for a disease like M bovis, it would be much worse if it was Foot and Mouth.
Gwyn and other MPI officials were giving a briefing on the disease to the select committee. Head of Biosecurity New Zealand Roger Smith said it had been “a very challenging incursion response” because of the level of non-authorised stock movements and modern farm practices which meant cows were frequently moved to where the grass was best.
It was also a challenge because unlike a disease such as foot and mouth, there could be little outward sign of infection, and may display as a secondary illness such as mastitis or pneumonia, he said. “It’s a very difficult disease to find. You could have perfectly healthy animals that showed no signs” of the disease. Definitive testing took 60 days unless the animal was dissected. “You have to take the head off the animal.”
Poor records, cash sales and difficulty in identifying the disease have made containing it more difficult.
The increase in the number of infected herds – 129 properties were under some restriction last week, now there are 299 – will make compensation even more expensive.
It will also make it more likely that the Ministry will give up on eradication and look at management and containment instead.
The bovine toll is rising steeply, so are stress levels among farmers which is not helped by delays and uncertainty over compensation for those whose herds have been culled.