Farmers want to know whether their neighbours have the M. bovis cattle disease but the Ministry for Primary Industries is not outing infected farms to the public.
However it will now directly inform the neighbours of infected or high-risk farms, Biosecurity Minister Damien O'Connor said on June 22.
It will also list the NAIT numbers of every infected cattlebeast on its website. It can do both these things without breaching the Privacy Act.
"This is a measured step that balances the privacy concerns of individuals with the need for farmers to protect their own farms," O'Connor said.
The new measures stop short of publicly naming infected and high-risk farms, but they should give some comfort to farmers. Whole herds are being culled on infected farms, in an effort to eradicate the disease from New Zealand.
Whanganui MP Harete Hipango has heard the concern of Whanganui and South Taranaki farmers at M. bovis meetings. She asked O'Connor to find out whether the Privacy and Biosecurity acts really prevent the names of infected farms being publicised.
They may permit disclosure of private information in times of crisis, such as the current M. bovis situation, she said. She wants legal opinion on this, and is concerned that MPI officials are unclear on it.
Hipango suspects the change to informing the neighbours of infected farms happened as the result of her prompting. The policy of not outing infected farms places the privacy of individuals ahead of containing the disease, she said.
Farmers do want to know where the disease is, Wanganui Federated Farmers dairy chairman Chris Davison said.
He has a dairy herd of 1000 cows in Rapanui Rd, and brings in bulls for mating every year.
If he knew his neighbour had M. bovis he would immediately look to strengthen boundary fences on that side, to prevent the disease being transferred between cattle by nose-to-nose contact.
It is "counterproductive" for MPI to store information about infected and at-risk properties, he said.
The ministry has been aware of farmers' concerns - especially the concerns of farmers who neighbour high risk properties and the concerns of people buying cattle and uncertain of their disease status, an MPI spokesman said.
The changes announced on June 22 answer both those concerns.
Although it has stopped short of naming names, the ministry has encouraged farmers who have or may have the disease on their properties to tell their neighbours. Most farmers name themselves, and also tell their neighbours.
"I say good on them, those guys," Davison said.
Properties that have the disease, or are at risk of it, have their stock and equipment movements restricted. This should stop the disease spreading through stock sales.
The highest risk properties also have notices on their fences.
According to the MPI website, there are now 42 infected properties but none near Whanganui.
Davison has heard through the grapevine of a farm being tested, but isn't willing to name it.
He said there was no reason for people to be embarrassed about their stock having the disease because it was not their fault.
He added that the disease is a lot less contagious than it first appeared, and that testing of all milk next spring should make it possible to trace every cow with M. bovis.
More long-term work is under way on law changes that will make eradication of M. bovis easier. The new regulations would control the use of unwanted milk and tighten the way stock records are kept.