Q: What is Mycoplasma bovis?
A: It’s a bacteria that causes painful and untreatable illness in cattle. This disease can present as udder infections (mastisis), abortion, pneumonia, and arthritis. Mycoplasma bovis causes cattle immense suffering, results in severe loss of productivity for farmers, and threatens to seriously damage the national economy. It is important that we take strong action now to mitigate the risk this disease poses to our primary sector.
Q: Are humans at risk?
A: There is absolutely no food safety concern with this disease. Both meat and dairy products are safe to consume. The World Animal Health Organisation does not categorise Mycoplasma bovis as a threat to humans. The disease is present in nearly all other meat and milk producing countries in the world where animal products are safely consumed.
Q: How does it spread?
A: Mycoplasma bovis is spread from animal to animal through close contact and bodily fluids, and through milking equipment. The disease can spread to calves if they drink milk from infected cows. The disease spreads from farm to farm through movement of cattle.
Q: How did Mycoplasma bovis get to New Zealand?
A: Mycoplasma bovis is found worldwide. It is unknown how the disease reached New Zealand, or how long it’s been here. The first documented case was in the Oamaru area last July. We are continuing to investigate this.
Q: How many farms are affected?
A: There are currently 37 active infected properties currently under quarantine (no movement of cattle in or out of the farm). A further four farms have been depopulated, cleaned and had restrictions lifted. We are upgrading National Animal Identification and Tracing (NAIT) which will help further identify infected farms.
Q: What is phased eradication?
A: We’re attempting to completely get rid of Mycoplasma bovis from New Zealand’s dairy and beef herds. It will mean continuing to trace all potentially affected cattle, and testing and culling those herds with infected animals. This will continue until regular surveillance finds no further evidence of the disease. By phased, we mean that it will take place over a number of years – likely 10 years - and in cooperation with farmers to allow for flexibility around timing of culling to offset production losses.
Q: Why this decision?
A: This is the best decision to protect the national dairy and beef herds. Getting rid of the disease means there won’t be on-going impacts including production loss for farmers and animal welfare issues. It gives farmers and their communities certainty for the future. We know it will be painful for many and they will be fully supported. We believe the disease is still limited to one network of farms connected by animal movements, it is not widespread and there is just one strain of the disease out there. This is the decision that both industry and government have reached after intense analysis. If we don’t try this now, we won’t have another chance.
Q: Why are we doing this when all other countries live with it and farm through it?
A: Mycoplasma bovis is widespread in other countries. However, we have a chance to eradicate it and we should take that chance while we can. Eradication will prevent serious impacts on our national herd, including production losses and on-going animal welfare issues.
Dairy farming in New Zealand is characterised by large herds and open farming systems with lots of movement between farms. We know from overseas experience that larger herds can be more seriously impacted. Our herds are naive – they have had no exposure or immunity to the disease – meaning the production losses and animal welfare issues could be higher initially than other countries are experiencing.
Q: What will this cost and who’s paying?
A: The full cost of eradication over 10 years is projected at $886 million. Of this, $16 million is loss of production and is borne by farmers and $870 million is the cost of the response (including compensation to farmers). Government will meet 68 percent of this cost and DairyNZ and Beef+Lamb New Zealand will pick up 32 percent.
Most of the cost of phased eradication will fall in the first 1-2 years, due to the upfront culling of herds, with costs winding down over future years as the response moves to a surveillance exercise.
Confirmed allocations for the up-front costs will be finalised in the coming weeks. Given the evolving nature of the situation, Cabinet has today allocated the first two years of funding, and further decisions are likely to also be made in two-year blocks.
The other key option on the table was long-term management. That was costed at $1.2 billion over 10 years, of which $698 million is the estimated production loss to industry.
Q: How are you supporting farmers?
A: First and foremost, we are providing compensation to all farmers directed to cull their animals or restrict farm operations under movement controls.
We are supporting affected farmers through their own assigned case manager, the Rural Support Trust and, where appropriate, acute recovery managers. We’re also calling on rural communities to look after one another. If you or someone you know or care about is struggling – contact a GP or your other community support services.
Q: On what basis are farmers compensated?
A: Farmers that are directed to have animals culled or their farm operations restricted under movement controls will be eligible for compensation.
The compensation claim process has been sped up. MPI advise a substantial part of a farmer’s compensation claim for culled cows should now take 4-10 days, with a fully verified claim taking 2-3 weeks.
We need to ensure compensation claims are properly assessed. Some claims can be complex and take a lot of working through and, in some instances, farmers have found it hard to find the necessary paperwork to verify their losses. Claims that are supported with good documentation are able to be processed quickly – within weeks. Partial payments can also be made to help with business continuity. We have also brought on board a team of 10 from DairyNZ to help farmers prepare their claims.
Q: How will Mycoplasma bovis change the farming sector and how it operates?
A: The farming system currently relies on moving large numbers of cattle. This is fine in a disease free environment. What we may now see are fewer animal movements and a move towards more closed herds which is what has been seen internationally. This can give farmers greater certainty in their herd health and resilience against biosecurity threats.
This disease is a regrettable example of why we need to properly fund biosecurity in New Zealand. Budget 2018 addresses this with new operating funding of $38 million over two years for MPI to ensure our primary sector is well supported by Government.
Q: If farmers want to speak to someone directly, who can they call?
A: Affected farmers should talk to their industry group representatives, their individual response case manager, or Rural Support Trust. For information from MPI, call the Ministry directly on 0800 00 83 33 – there is a team of people on board to answer Mycoplasma bovis questions.
Q: I live in the city… Should I care about Mycoplasma bovis?
A: The short answer is yes. The success of the dairy and beef industries is crucial to the prosperity of all New Zealanders. The rise in the number of incursions by imported risks and their impact on the economy. We all benefit when we keep our primary sector and our economy safe.