Friday, 18 October 2019 12:05

OSPRI's new energy underpins farming

Written by  Steve Stuart, chief executive of OSPRI
Steve Stuart. Steve Stuart.

Farmers and global markets can depend on OSPRI, explains chief executive Steve Stuart.

The kiwi farmers whose levies support OSPRI’s work agree that New Zealand relies on the strong reputation of primary produce as the backbone of our exporting economy.

The world needs to be assured that the meat and milk from our grass-fed animals is safe, nutritious and free of disease. 

With booming populations and global political uncertainty, quality assurance is increasingly important and OSPRI’s new energy is helping ensure NZ’s continuing leadership.

A joined-up approach to biosecurity and traceability provides that assurance, and is crucial to defending our borders from diseases such as bovine TB, Mycoplasma bovis and (the thankfully absent) foot-and-mouth disease. 

OSPRI is working with MPI during its overhaul of NZ’s biosecurity framework to ensure a robust response to any disease incursion or threat.

The arrival, about two years ago, of Mycoplasma bovis highlighted weakness in NZ’s disease response protocols and in the national animal identification and tracing system, NAIT.
Recognising and rebuilding the system’s capabilities has been addressed in consultation with farmers and industry shareholders. Now two workstreams – disease management and traceability – form the foundation of OSPRI’s strategic framework.

The company’s recently released five-year strategic plan is designed to deliver these key outcomes. They’re enabled by our core strengths: a strong culture and capability, stakeholder support, superior information systems and broad government and industry support for our programmes.

The traceability data needed for the Mycoplasma bovis response helped improve the NAIT system by encouraging all farmers to register and helped establish an eradication strategy for the disease. Even though the NAIT system is compulsory, there are still farmers who need help to be fully compliant and realise that NAIT is their system, protecting their businesses. Farmer ownership is critical to NAIT’s success.

Animal health and disease management is imprinted in OSPRI’s DNA. The eradication of bovine tuberculosis (TB) has been part of OSPRI’s skills since it evolved from the Animal Health Board, and the TBfree eradication programme is recognised as world-leading.

A carefully balanced combination of TB testing, possum extermination and stock movement controls has brought infected herd numbers down from 1700 at the peak in the mid-1990s to about 30 today. While that seems like a manageable problem, a far greater risk exists in TB-infected possums passing the disease between wildlife and livestock.

Any retreat from a programme of coordinated possum extermination could easily cause TB to come flooding back, as happened in the 1980s when funding was cut because the problem was believed beaten.

Eradicating TB in possums is the focus of TBfree trapping and poisoning on the ground and from the air. OSPRI manages this vital work with a handful of trusted contractors, consults widely with all land users, and adheres to the strictest health and safety requirements.

When the last herds have been cleared, within the next decade (by 2026), and TB eradicated in possums (by 2040), NZ will be recognised as the only country to have eradicated bovine TB. That’s projected to happen in 2055 and will rank as a world first.

Farmers and global markets can depend on OSPRI to provide assurance about the health and status of farm animals. Supporting the success of farmers is our motivation, and world class disease management and traceability is our mission.

• Steve Stuart is chief executive of OSPRI.

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