Thursday, 11 March 2021 07:55

M.bovis review a chance to learn

Written by  Peter Burke
M.bovis review head Nicola Shadbolt says it is not a witch-hunt. M.bovis review head Nicola Shadbolt says it is not a witch-hunt.

Ministry for Primary Industries director general Ray Smith says his organisation absolutely supports a review into the handling of the Mycoplasma bovis outbreak.

Smith says it’s the biggest biosecurity incursion in New Zealand history and eradicating it will end up costing close to a billion dollars.

Recently, the Government announced that a special committee will review the M. bovis programme – headed by Nicola Shadbolt, professor of farm and agribusiness at Massey University. Also on the committee are Dr Roger Paskin, a highly-regarded veterinarian from Australia, Caroline Saunders from Lincoln University and Tony Cleland, a South Island dairy farmer and chairman of the rural insurance company, FMG.

Shadbolt says the review is not a witch-hunt and the aim is to “gain learnings” and apply these to any future event like this.

NZ is the first country in the world to try and eradicate M. bovis and Smith admits it’s been a tough road.

“We now need to chronicle the ‘learnings’ so that if we have to do some similar thing again, we start better and faster next time,” he told Rural News.

“So, the purpose of the review is not so much to troll through all the things that happened along the way, but actually to take a forward view about what we can take out of the journey we have been on and make sure we are much fitter for the future.”

Smith says the reality is that other diseases will come into the country and, actually, M. bovis is not the worst of the diseases we could have had. He says NZ would do itself a disservice if it didn’t have an independent review and look forward to see what we could take out of it.

One of the big lessons Smith has taken out of this is, “if we have these big events, you have to get on board the very people you are affecting and have relationships at the local level. You have to use local people and use local knowledge and engage them in the strategy,” he told Rural News.

Smith says there are now only 10 active confirmed cases of M. bovis, all in Canterbury. He says the rest of NZ is M. bovis free and has been for the past nine months, but he warns it’s possible that, next spring, bulk milk testing may yield more cases.

One of the issues that caused grief at the start of M. bovis was poor compliance with NAIT, but Smith says compliance is now high. However, he says they are still prosecuting some farmers for non-compliance.

“I’d rather wish it wasn’t that way, but we have to push hard to get compliance.”

Smith says one of the interesting things learned through the M. bovis operation was the nature of our farming systems and how it operates. For example, some calf rearers and traders were found to be higher biosecurity risks because of the very nature of these operations.

“I’m interested to know whether we have enough controls around those sorts of those operations. It’s not that people are trying to get it wrong, but there is inherently more risk when you are trading large number of animals or mixing them,” he says.

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