Possums targeted in TB alert

By Mike Dinsdale


A disease that could put Northland's $750 million dairy and beef industries at risk is under the spotlight at this week's Northland Field Days with a focus on ensuring possums don't get bovine tuberculosis.

Early this year cattle in a dairy herd in the Awanui area north of Kaitaia were found to be infected with bovine TB.

The infection - a major blip in the region's long TB-free status - brought a quick response from the Animal Health Board (AHB), which clamped movement controls on animals in the herd and is testing neighbouring herds.

Ensuring bovine TB doesn't spread to Northland possums is a key component in protecting the region's economy. If that happened the disease could threaten farms which are the mainstay of the regional economy. Northland's 296,000 dairy cattle earned $641 million in 2011/12, when the region's 403,000 beef cattle made $125 million.

AHB Northern Central North Island regional co-ordinator Frank Pavitt said about 350 possums and other wild animals in the area surrounding the herd had been examined since the infection was detected. None had shown signs of TB on initial inspection.

Further laboratory analysis of the samples taken from the animals is being undertaken and if TB is not found, it indicates the disease is unlikely to be present in wild animal populations.

However, several more animals in the Awanui-based infected dairy herd have tested positive to TB and will be removed from the herd as soon as possible, Mr Pavitt said.

He said all past movements to and from the infected herd are being investigated and traced. Livestock now located on these properties is being tested.

TBfree New Zealand cattle and deer testing contractors have been out in force to identify any signs of the disease in other herds.

Wild animal control contractors have also been working to prevent the disease spreading to possums.

"Several herds in Northland require further investigation, with some possibly infected.

"Further testing in the next week will confirm if the disease has spread from the original herd to others within Northland," Mr Pavitt said.

TBfree New Zealand staff will be at the Northland Field Days later this week to speak with farmers about the infection and its response to the situation. They will be in Rural Pavilion One at the field days site in Dargaville's Awakino Point East Rd.

- NORTHERN ADVOCATE

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