OPINION: The recent high-profile Mycoplasma bovis announcement from the Government in Hamilton featured Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor.
It has also made several recommendations to improve the country's wider biosecurity system.
The review found that the programme, a partnership between the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI), DairyNZ and Beef + Lamb New Zealand, has made improvements since it was beefed up to stop the spread of the disease.
"We have come a long way since the programme started," says M. bovis governance group chair Kelvan Smith.
He claims the improvements made to the programme have prevented long-term financial and animal welfare costs of endemic M. bovis in herds.
"We've previously acknowledged the issues at the start of the programme and the Independent Review acknowledges that lessons have been learned and improvements made," Smith adds.
"There's no denying the disruption and stress experienced by farmers affected by the eradication programme and this review will help to ensure we have better systems and support in the future for disease responses."
The review panel's recommendations covered areas focused on responding to animal diseases - all of which have been accepted and are being implemented.
MPI director-general Ray Smith says the M. bovis programme has provided valuable lessons for future disease responses. He says these are being applied to areas of work like the Foot and Mouth Disease Readiness Programme.
"The M. bovis programme has already led to changes across the biosecurity system, however, there's always room to improve and the review panel's recommendations will help us in the future," he says.
"One of the key recommendations is that we all need to work more closely together to ensure the right capability and support is in place for people affected by a disease incursion."
Smith says the improvements already made or under way include:
- The appointment of a new specialist welfare advisor within Biosecurity New Zealand to ensure a greater focus on the needs of people affected by future incursion responses.
- A new chief veterinary officer for MPI to connect its vets who practice across a wide range of activities; and build collaboration with the country's private veterinary network to enhance disease readiness.
- Investment in a new data strategy to ensure the information needs of biosecurity responses can be adequately met in future.
- A programme of projects for increasing readiness for an FMD incursion is underway.
- Threat-specific plans are in place for some other diseases of concern.
- Working with industry partners and networks outside of MPI, such as veterinarians, to ensure the expertise for preparing for and responding to large scale animal incursion are identified, developed and maintained.
- Strengthening of importing requirements for cattle semen.
- Completion of the new National Biocontainment Laboratory at Wallaceville, which will enable improved disease diagnostic capability and capacity.
"We acknowledge the significant impact the eradication has had on farmers and rural communities, as well as those working on the programme," says review chair Professor Nicola Shadbolt.
"A large number of people, including our farmers, worked incredibly hard to get to where we are now.
"Unique tools and capability have been built, which pur us in a great position and we're on track to be the first country in the world to eradicate M. bovis."
DairyNZ chair Jim van der Poel and Beef + Lamb New Zealand chairman Andrew Morrison say the review has shown that a lot of improvements have been made to the delivery of the programme and highlights what would help biodiversity responses in the future.
A report by a Technical Advisory Group (TAG), released in July, acknowledged the improvements made to the programme to lessen the impact on affected farmers and rural communities. It also confirmed that New Zealand is on track to eradicate the disease.
- There are now four active confirmed M. bovis properties compared to 16 at the same time in 2019. All current properties are in Canterbury.
- A total of 268 confirmed properties have been cleared and nearly 173,000 cattle culled.
- 18 farms are under notices of direction (NOD) compared with 297 at the same time in 2019.
- The time under NOD has dropped from 97 days average to 27 days in the past two days.
- $212 million compensation has been paid across 2676 claims. Some 53 claims are currently open - 1.9% of the total.
- Since the beginning of the response, the average number of working days to pay an M. bovis non-complex claim has reduced from 47 days to 20 days.
- 2,444,594 tests have been carried out for M. bovis.
In February this year, MPI appointed Professor Nicola Shadbolt (Chair), Dr Roger Paskin, Professor Caroline Saunders and Tony Cleland to carry out the review, which recommended the following:
- MPI and industry will work to prioritise, support, communicate and monitor the implementation of these recommendations with other industries and partners.
- Develop standing governance of livestock disease preparedness, made up of MPI and industry organisations, with an independent chair.
- Develop and resource the livestock disease preparedness structure, capacity, and capability within MPI, particularly for large-scale and complex animal disease incursions.
- Build a national contingency plan for animal disease responses, supported by detailed and operational procedures and materials.
- Develop and resource a data strategy across the livestock biosecurity system.