A bacterial cattle disease is edging closer to the Bay of Plenty.
Biosecurity New Zealand this week confirmed a farm in Cambridge was the latest to test positive for Mycoplasma bovis.
Mycoplasma bovis is not a food safety risk, but it is a disease that affects animal welfare and production and can cause untreatable mastitis, pneumonia, arthritis and late-term abortions in cattle.
Federated Farmers Bay of Plenty president Darryl Jensen said the disease would be devastating for a farmer, particularly a sharemilker, as farms that have tested positive were automatically quarantined and cattle potentially culled.
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"Their only asset is their cows... that's their livelihood," he said.
Jensen advised Bay farmers to be vigilant when buying stock and to quarantine any new cattle on the farm.
"It is just an unknown territory... There is no cure for it," he said.
"New Zealand is one of the few countries in the world that hadn't had this disease. We are still unsure how it got in the country."
Jensen said, in his view, farmers had been let down by the National Animal Identification and Tracing (NAIT) scheme, an identification system that linked people, property and livestock.
Local farmer Richard Fowler was taking precautions after being advised by DairyNZ and the Ministry for Primary Industries.
"We are not going to any farms that have an infection, and we are taking better steps in terms of quarantining people coming on to the farm," he said. "We won't be buying any [cows] out of rural hotspots in the South Island."
Their only asset is their cows... that is their livelihood
Rotorua farmer Neil Heather said Bay farmers should be worried about the disease.
"We just have to reconfigure our farming practices so that we can try and eliminate it ever coming on to our farms," he said.
Heather had stud cows and Angus cows on his sheep and beef farm at Paradise Valley and said he had to be careful not to introduce anything new on to the property.
"I will have to make sure the cattle can't have any contact over the fence and until we get a better understanding of the situation that will remain in place."
Bay of Plenty MP Todd Muller said Biosecurity Minister Damien O'Connor's communication about the disease that would have a severe impact on New Zealand agriculture had been inadequate.
A Ministry for Primary Industries spokeswoman said no Bay of Plenty properties were directly affected by the disease and none were under legal controls due to infection or suspicion of infection.
However, a small number of Bay properties had been identified as needing to be checked due to potential movement of cattle.
"But none of these are regarded as being of sufficiently high-risk to have legal controls imposed at this time," she said.
Biosecurity Minister Damien O'Connor said the Ministry would soon have a plan to eradicate Mycoplasma bovis and was working closely with the industry.
"Any option – rapid eradication, phased eradication, long-term management or stopping Government assistance - will cost money, and it must be a fair deal for all," he said.
O'Connor said he would overhaul the Biosecurity Act and ensure NAIT was "fit for purpose".
"Farmers will need to improve their NAIT record-keeping and on-farm biosecurity," he said.
WHAT IS MYCOPLASMA BOVIS?
- Mycoplasma bovis is a bacterium that can cause a range of quite serious conditions in cattle including mastitis that doesn't respond to treatment – pneumonia, arthritis and late-term abortions.
- It does not infect humans and presents no food safety risk. It is an animal welfare and productivity issue.
- A cull of 22,000 cows is currently underway, with nearly half, 11,000 animals, destroyed.
- As of May 9, 38 farms were active infected places, and another 40 were under Restricted Place Notice (considered highly likely to become infected).
Source: Ministry of Primary Industries