Wednesday, 18 May 2022 07:55

Who dares wins

Written by  Mark Daniel
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern takes questions from the media during her visit to Waikato recently. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern takes questions from the media during her visit to Waikato recently.

In a move that reminded everyone of the SAS motto, 'Who dares wins', Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor and industry leaders met at MilkTest NZ's Hamilton facility to announce a significant milestone in the efforts to eradicate Mycoplasma bovis.

On the fourth anniversary of the launch of the plan to eradicate the disease that causes untreatable mastitis, swollen joints and lameness, resulting in lost production, alongside pneumonia and ear infections in calves, the Ministe for Primary Industries (MPI) announced that only one infected property remained.

M. Bovis was first seen in New Zealand in 2017, but likely arrived in the country at least a year earlier. Over the next four years, a total of 271 confirmed properties were cleared, with around 176,325 cattle culled. To date, the eradication programme has cost the taxpayer around $600m, with $220.3 million paid in compensation for 2,741 claims, and 10 active claims still being assessed.

O'Connor noted that in 2017, when the industry became aware of the incursion, he spoke with Irish counterparts who had already experienced the problem for many years. He recalls that many European countries said it was a problem they just had to live with, but Irish experts said, "If you have the chance to eradicate it, go for it."

Realising that leaving the disease to its own devices, like the European model, would have a major impact financially and in terms of animal welfare, MPI and key industry players such as DairyNZ and Beef + Lamb NZ formed the Mycoplasma eradication programme.

O'Connor says the make-up of the NZ dairy industry relies on a number of different parties, including producers, milk companies, manufacturers, exporters and retailers.

"The way forward was with the agreement of the whole industry, so after reasoned debate, analysis and commitment, we went for it."

Whilst the programme has caused much division within the industry, particularly at the producer level, NZ has become the first country in the world that has succeeded in nearly eradicating the disease. Both Ardern and O'Connor acknowledged that it had been tough for those farmers who had lost their herds and, in many cases, a lifetime of genetics, but said their collective actions had preservedd our productive sectors that underpin the prosperity of all New Zealanders.

O'Connor accepted there had been some logistical problems in the early days of the programme and it is likely some cases of the disease will still emerge. With that in mind, he said it was time to consider the future framework for an ongoing M. bovis eradication programme. MPI is working towards a transition of the programme to an agency under the National Pest Management Plan (NPMP) that will open for consultations in the second half of 2022, with implementation in 2023.

"We are aiming to move from deliminating/controlling the last few pockets of the diseae to provisional absence," says O'Connor.

"This will be followed by significant surveillance testing of herds around the country to provide the assurance that there are no undetected pockets of the disease."

He went on to note that NZ had world-class bulk milk and beef herd testing strategies developed over the last four years, which will continue to be used as crucial tools to fight the disease.

The National Beef Surveillance programme tested over 385,000 animals in 2021, with no infected properties found. By contrast, the Bulk Tank Milk screening initiative conducted 99,000 ELISA tests in 2021 with 179 detections and three confirmed infected properties. Dairy NZ chairman Jim van der Poel says the decision to eradicate M. bovis was a big ask, but the right call.

"The programme, at times, has been challenging for the farmers involved and it's important for us to acknowledge that.

"The programme means we are on a clear pathway forwards and offers a good example of an industry and government working together to get the best result. It is also important that we protect those sacrifices and investments made, so all farmers should continue to manage their herds well, particularly through the use of the National Animal Tracing System (NAIT)."

Leigh Colman Shaw of the M. bovis programme confirmed that NAIT compliance monitoring was still a key component to ensure the health and traceability of the national herds, noting there were 18 prosecutions, 1,824 infringement notices and 2,432 written warnings issued in 2019, while in 2022, so far those numbers are one, 527 and 489 respectively.

Preparing for Incursions

Damien O'Connor also announced a bolstering of New Zealand's biosecurity measures as part of the upcoming budget.

This includes $42.9m to bolster the country's readiness for possible future pests or diseases, alongside $68m over the coming year to continue M. bovis eradication momentum. It is unclear if this latter amount is new funding, or part of that set aside to fight the disease, which saw an initial commitment back in 2018 to spend up to $870m.

O’Connor noted that with NZ primary sector revenue heading towards $50.8bn in the year ending June 2022, it is vital to ensure the sector is protected by a strong biosecurity system.

“We need to ensure that the system can meet the challenges presented by increased cargo freight and pests such as the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug.

“Much of the work is conducted offshore, before arrival at our physical borders, domestically, as it crosses those borders and through our trade.

“As much risk as possible is managed offshore, enabling trade to flow, with all goods, craft and passengers that do cross the border screened for risk, alongside many activities within NZ to eradicate pests and reduce their harm, “ O’Connor said.

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