New Zealand's world-first effort to eradicate the cattle disease Mycoplasma bovis has made significant progress with the number of infected properties dropping to new lows, three years to the day since it was first detected in New Zealand.
"To date, 250 properties have been infected by the disease – with all but four now clear of it," Biosecurity and Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor said.
"The hard and early approach with which we responded to Covid-19 was the exact same approach we took early on in our term as a Government to eradicate M. bovis to protect our national herd, the economic base of our primary sector, and the social good of the country," Damien O'Connor said.
"Key to the success are our programme partners DairyNZ and Beef + Lamb New Zealand. They were part of the bold decision to attempt to eradicate this disease and have been part of our efforts since the very beginning.
"It was estimated that allowing the disease to spread could cause $1.3 billion in economic losses in the first 10 years alone, along with substantial animal welfare issues, and serious ongoing challenges for farmers having to manage the disease within their herds.
"One key measure of success of our 10-year eradication plan, the Estimated Dissemination Rate (EDR), shows strongly that we have M. bovis firmly in our sights. If the EDR is greater than one, then the disease is growing. If it's below one, we're shrinking the disease. The EDR is now at 0.4, which is down from over two at the start of the outbreak, so we are looking harder to find fewer infected animals.
"We've shown, again, that we're able to do what others countries have not in terms of disease eradication efforts. That's something our farming community should be really proud of.
"Allowing the disease to spread would have caused lost productivity in our vital cattle sectors and affected the economy. Had we left M. bovis to run rampant, I'm not sure our dairy and beef sectors would have been able to weather the economic storm of Covid-19 and the challenges of drought conditions as well as they have.
"The eradication effort has not been without substantial challenges, and the impact on affected farmers can't be under-estimated. Farmers deserve a lot of credit for their efforts. We are continuing to improve processes and work hard to support their wellbeing and recovery, including getting their compensation claims paid as quickly as possible.
"We are also changing tax law to further help farmers whose herds were culled. A significant tax bill can arise in the year they receive a compensation payment so we'll be making a change that means they may be eligible to spread their income over several years.
"There is still work to be done, and there will be more infected farms to find – but we're well and truly on track to do what no other country in the world has done and eradicate this disease.
"The next 12 months is about ensuring that we have found all infected herds. This will involve ongoing Bulk Tank Milk Surveillance, nation-wide beef surveillance, and on-farm testing of herds that could possibly have been exposed, to ensure that they are not infected.
"We will not let up on our efforts, and will ensure that this disease is gone so that we can farm free from it in the future," Damien O'Connor said.
Current situation (as at July 21)
■ 250 total confirmed properties – 4 active, 246 cleared
■ 157,854 animals culled
■ 1,517,203 tests completed
■ $166 million compensation paid