Mycoplasma bovis is a bacterium that can lead to udder infection, abortion, pneumonia and arthritis in cattle, although it does not affect humans, nor does it present any food safety risks.
“Since the start of this response in late July, we’ve carried out tens of thousands of tests of the infected, neighbouring and trace properties, as well as district-wide testing in Waimate and Waitaki, and nationwide testing of bulk milk,” commented MPI’s director of response Geoff Gwyn.
“The only positive results for the disease have been on seven infected properties, leading us to be cautiously optimistic that we are dealing with a localised area of infection around Oamaru.
“To prevent further spread of the disease, around 4,000 cattle on five of the seven infected properties will need to be culled and a programme put in place to decontaminate the properties and then repopulate the farms. The two other properties have had a small number of animals culled already and no cattle remain.”
There is currently no need to remove animals from other farms in the Van Leeuwen group that are under restrictions. Animals on those farms will continue to be tested. If disease is found on the animals, the same actions will be taken.
Gwyn added: “This whole operation is about managing the disease while keeping our future options open. We want to minimise the risk of further spread of the disease. Moving ahead with depopulation of the affected farms will allow them to get back to normal business as soon as it is safe to do so.”
The MPI will be working in conjunction with industry bodies to achieve its aims. Beef+Lamb NZ, Federated Farmers and DairyNZ have already voiced support for the activity being carried out by the MPI.
While Beef+Lamb NZ recognised the culling of animals was a difficult decision, it also acknowledged that it was for the greater good. “The decision will obviously have significant implications for the farm businesses and the rural communities affected by this disease outbreak and we wish to see all available support and compensation provided to those affected,” said James Parsons, chairman of Beef+Lamb NZ.
“We believe these measures are necessary to protect New Zealand cattle farms against the disease.
“New Zealand takes its biosecurity very seriously and is one of the few countries in the world where the disease isn’t endemic, so that’s why the industry is willing to support such significant measures to keep it that way.”
The first stage in the process, which will see the animals removed from the farms, will begin after a consultation with affected parties. Most cattle will be sent for slaughter in accordance with standard practices.
“The coming weeks will present new challenges and will be tough for these affected farmers,” continued Gwyn. “MPI will work with those affected to make the process as straightforward as possible. I’d like to particularly thank the owners, sharemilkers and farm workers involved for their ongoing support, recognising this is a very difficult time for them.
“I want to be very clear this isn’t something that’s going to start tomorrow. This is a big logistical exercise, it needs to be thoroughly planned and co-ordinated and we will be doing it with the farmers who know their businesses best.”
In a further effort to minimise the risk of spread, transportation vehicles and equipment involved in culling will be decontaminated and disinfected following a strict protocol.
When the animals have been removed from the farms, there will be at least a 60-day period where no cattle will be permitted on the grounds. The infected properties will be cleaned and disinfected during this time.
Once this process has been completed, animals will repopulate the farm as soon as possible. Surveillance, monitoring and testing will remain in place for a period as a further safeguard.
“Since Mycoplasma bovis was first identified in July, farmers have been on high alert and worried about the impact of this disease,” said DairyNZ chief executive Dr Tim Mackle.
“DairyNZ is supportive of MPI’s decision to step up control measures by culling these animals. However, we also know that the decision will create heartache for the affected farmers, and our sympathies are with all those involved on-farm.”
Farmers affected by the culling can apply for compensation for verifiable losses relating to MPI exercising legal powers under the Biosecurity Act.