Not to diminish the impact on individual farmers, but to put the proposed Mycoplasma Bovis cull in context, we killed 4.2 million cattle in 2017.

Even if we kill an additional 100,000 cattle this year then the total fall well short of the recent peak kill - 4.8 million in 2015.

The potential economic risk of this outbreak is very serious as are the implications for specific rural communities and individuals affected.

Farmers suffering from the financial and emotional trauma of this outbreak deserve our sympathy and support.


But for urban New Zealanders (or foreign news agencies) fretting about apocalyptic scenes of slaughter across the countryside it's worth noting that the projected cull (across two years) represents an increased annual kill of less than two per cent.

To put it bluntly, killing animals is what we do in New Zealand.

It's not just the bobby calves separated from their mothers shortly after birth – we kill all our cattle.

Cows, when they no longer produce enough milk to be economically viable and even bulls, celebrated in news stories for their breeding prowess, we killed 463,000 of them last year.

Broadly, based on optimistic outcomes, economists see the impact of this outbreak as akin to a drought – not insignificant but with a natural hedge.

If the cull tightens milk supply it pushes global prices up, balancing the losses from lower production.

To that extent the situation isn't prompting any material revision to economic outlooks.

It isn't changing any forecasts for Reserve Bank rate rises.


From a fiscal point of view the hit to the crown accounts – at about $600m across 10 years – isn't hugely significant either. There was certainly enough headroom in Budget projections to absorb that.

It could get worse of course. Eradication could fail. In this case we'd be looking at a management scenario which is forecast to cost the country more like $1.2 billion – presumably on top of costs already incurred.

Even then, this is not a national disaster in the current economic context.

It is ugly and unfair for many hard working farmers.

And it does is serve as reminder of how vulnerable New Zealand's economy is to biosecurity risk.

Recent Treasury forecasts put the cost of a Foot and Mouth outbreak at $22 billion.
The wider cost of that to New Zealand's rural communities doesn't bear thinking about.