OPINION: The recent high-profile Mycoplasma bovis announcement from the Government in Hamilton featured Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor.
The report found there were too few well trained and experienced staff. It adds that there were also issues around training and consistency of decision making, particularly around movement control and dealing with compensation claims.
DairyNZ and Beef+Lamb NZ chairs - Jim van der Poel and Andrew Morrison - claim the review shows many improvements had been made to the delivery of the programme.
However, the independent review team - headed by Professor Nicola Shadbolt - found that programme is still hindered by poor industry-wide compliance in the recording of animal movements.
Shadbolt says despite the best efforts of all concerned there are still problems with sharing data between MPI, farmers and supporting agencies and that this continues to frustrate the implementation of the programme. But she adds it's a remarkable achievement that NZ is currently on track to eradicate M. bovis.
The 196 page report canvasses processes and procedures that have taken place since the disease was first discovered in 2017. It charts the progress that has been made since then and produces a series of recommendations to improve this and other biosecurity incursions.
Van der Poel says the biosecurity response and management of M. Bovis has been challenging, especially for farmers directly affected.
"The review will help ensure that government and industry are better prepared for any future incursion. It's vital we get it right for farmers," he says.
Morrison says we owe it to those farmers affected by M. bovis to ensure the eradication programme and future biosecurity responses are the best they can be.
"Implementing the recommendations of this independent review will go a long way to strengthening our biosecurity system, which will prove vital in the face of any future incursions," he says.
The report says it was widely known, before 2017 when M. bovis was detected, that the NAIT system had significant challenges and that compliance was low. It suggests that the present situation in regard to NAIT compliance still leaves a lot to be desired. The report adds that there needs to be an improvement in improving animal tacking, compliance and the accurate recording of data.
The other issue to come under the spotlight in the report is 'communication'. It notes that early participants (likely farmers) found engaging with the M. bovis programme deeply frustrating, partly it says because MPI field staff were often inexperienced and that decision making was cumbersome and inflexible.
A key recommendation is to develop a governance structure for dealing with livestock diseases, which would be made up of MPI, industry organisations with an independent chair. Its role would be to report to the Minister of Biosecurity and to effectively develop and monitor progress on a plan to deal with biosecurity diseases relating to livestock.
The review panel also highlights the need for a livestock biosecurity system to have a core group of skilled professionals, trained and experienced in biosecurity responses including epidemiology, diagnostics and leadership. It also wants a 'reserve' of trained, skilled people who can be mobilised to help deal with a similar event in the future. The report stresses that it's critical that people have technical knowledge of farming systems.
Other recommendations from the panel point to the need for MPI to establish the new position of Chief Veterinary Officer (CVO) - a position that incidentally existed in the old MAF days. It sees this person having the responsibility to connect with MPI vets based around the country and also with vets in private practice. It wants a much stronger 'team' approach to be establish with people working outside MPI.
While the report contains many criticisms of the way the M. bovis programme has been handled and some more changes to the system, it does acknowledge that improvements have been made since the start of the outbreak.
It says in many respects the programme has evolved to being an "exemplar of good practice" and says its important that the hard-worn lessons of the past are not lost.
Tough on Impact
Professor Nicola Shadbolt says the panel acknowledges the significant impact the eradication has had on farmers and rural communities, as well as those working on the programme.
"We now need to make sure we capture these lessons learned, improve our preparedness for the next animal health response, have a world class biosecurity system that all players commit to, and that will deliver," she says.
MPI director-general Ray Smith says the M. bovis programme has provided valuable lessons for future disease responses, including the Foot and Mouth Disease Readiness Programme. He says changes have already been made across the biosecurity system but the review panel's recommendations will help MPI in the future.
"A number of improvements have already made or under way and these include the appointment of a new specialist welfare advisor within Biosecurity NZ to ensure a greater focus on the needs of people affected by future incursion responses," Smith says.