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M bovis milestone worth noting

Biosecurity and Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor announced last week that there are currently no farms in the country infected with the cattle disease Mycoplasma bovis
[M bovis].

The milestone was announced halfway through New Zealand’s 10-year eradication project.

O’Connor said the last known infected property in Mid Canterbury has been de-stocked and declared disease-free, taking New Zealand to zero confirmed infections.

“Five years of hard work, sacrifice, and collaboration with MPI, DairyNZ, and Beef+Lamb New Zealand have brought us to this milestone on the road to eradication,” O’Connor said.

“I want to acknowledge the hardship that affected farmers and families have felt during this time. I also want to thank the broader sector who’ve stepped up their animal tracing efforts, allowing us to move the programme on to a new surveillance phase.

“Allowing M bovis to become endemic was estimated to come at a cost of $1.3 billion in lost production in the first 10 years alone.

“At the height of the programme, there was a peak of 40 infected properties across the country, and today we have none.”

FMG rural proposition manager Karen Williams told the Times-Age she is delighted that M bovis is on the cusp of eradication.

“When we succeeded in eradicating pea weevil from Wairarapa in 2020, I always hoped that our success would give farmers, the Ag industry, and the government a shot of confidence that we could also eradicate
M bovis,” Willaims said.

“Success hasn’t been without its pain, though. Not being able to grow peas over a four-year period was challenging, but the emotional impact on farmers and farming families when they had to have their animals destroyed was significant. And in some cases, farming families were treated as if they personally had the disease.”

The fact that New Zealand has clocked up this milestone as the first country in the world to attempt to eradicate M bovis is something that’s worth celebrating, but the battle is not yet officially over.

“We can’t say yet that we’ve reached eradication as we may still detect new cases in the future; however, with no confirmed infection from our background surveillance since April 2022, we can be confident that we are moving in the right direction,” O’Connor said.

“All the indicators – from our bulk milk testing to beef herd surveillance – give us confidence our 10-year programme is working.

“With almost 184,000 cattle culled, including 280 farms depopulated, nearly 3000 farms subject to movement controls, and many more undergoing on-farm testing, the programme has touched nearly every farming community across the country.”

The next step for the M bovis programme, O’Connor said, is to focus on a national pest management plan – similar to what is used for Bovine Tuberculosis control.

According to Williams, in order to increase our chances of success “we must ensure that the learning we had through both the pea weevil and the
M bovis incursions is captured and rolled out with efficiency at the next incursion.

“Even better, where we can, let’s prevent these incursions coming into New Zealand at all.”

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