As you may have heard, Mycoplasma bovis has made its way to a farm in Taranaki. This will bring some challenges to the region's rural community.
Right now, one Taranaki property is identified as a Restricted Place after test results and tracing of animal movements showed the herd was a risk of spreading M. bovis. The cattle on the farm have been culled and the property cleaned and disinfected. No cattle can come onto the property for another 60 days to stop any new infections.
Another four Taranaki farms are under legal controls – called Notices of Direction. This is a very effective way to stop any possible spread of the disease by restricting the movement of cattle off the farm while all necessary checks and tests are under way. Until that's done, these farms do not have confirmed cases of M. bovis and are able to carry on farming around the movement restrictions. We will work with these farms so they can farm as close to normal as possible.
Nationwide, there are currently 67 Restricted Places and 166 properties under Notices of Direction (at 1 March 2019).
The effect on people:
The eradication process is effective, but can also be time-consuming, frustrating and stressful for farmers and their workers. The investigation process disrupts and restricts normal farming activity. Incomes are lost (and later compensated) and, in many situations, herds representing years of work are culled for certainty that the spread of disease is stopped.
While effective for removing traces of the disease, we know that many people are starting to feel the strain, so we are working to minimise disruption to farming businesses as much as possible, and working together with other organisations to make sure the right support is available to affected farmers.
We are improving our communication and processes, particularly the compensation application process, and listening to feedback to make the long road to eradication is easier for everyone from here on in.
Because it's not just a cattle disease. It's about the future and wellbeing of farming families and communities.
What to expect from the eradication programme:
New Zealand is the first country to attempt eradication of M. bovis, and it's the largest biosecurity response we've ever undertaken. This means that there is a lot for us and our industry partners, DairyNZ and Beef+Lamb NZ, to learn and develop as we go.
Already, more than 80,000 cattle have been culled. I think we have another two years of heavy lifting to do before we can confidently say that we have got on top of the spread of M. bovis. There will also be several years of ongoing surveillance. (International experts tell us that eradication will take five to 10 years.)
So far, it's tracking well but it's going to be a long haul. Some aspects of farming and agribusiness will need to adapt. Thousands of rural businesses will be affected. The social and financial pressure felt by farming families, including their children, will be high. Whatever happens, we can't let it break us.
What you can do to help pull Taranaki through:
We all have a part to help everyone get through this disease. Knowing and understanding what's happening and how you can help will go a long way.
We are aware of some inaccurate rumours on the grapevine about M. bovis and the complications of its testing process, so here's five important facts to help set the record straight.
M. bovis is not a risk to people or food safety. It causes serious conditions in cattle and other bovines that affects their welfare and production.
Vehicles and equipment are low risks of spreading the disease. Cleaning and disinfecting on arrival and departure drops the risk even further.
M. bovis is not spread by air or water, including effluent. It's spread through close contact between cattle.
M. bovis doesn't live in soil for long. After culling and disinfection, a farm can be restocked after 60 days.
Testing is tricky – and infection is detected by herd, rather than single animal
M. bovis can lie dormant showing no symptoms at all, or infect a single part of the cattle's body. We test different samples over time to work out the likelihood that a herd is infected, because it is very difficult to detect on an individual level, and, in some cases, impossible to detect without culling the animal. This is why it can take up to four months before we can say if a herd is likely to be infected. M. bovis spreads very easily between cattle in a herd, so when it is detected the whole herd is deemed to be infected.
If you'd like to know more, there's heaps of information and advice on the MPI website and it's sorted by group to make it easy to find what is relevant to you, whether you're a farm service provider, calf rearer, transporter, grazier, or part of an emergency service.
Information, support and advice is also available from Rural Support Trusts, DairyNZ, Beef+Lamb NZ, Rural Women New Zealand, Federated Farmers, Dairy Companies Association of New Zealand, the New Zealand Veterinary Association, and Meat Industry New Zealand.
Late last year we met with affected Taranaki farmers and their vets, and will be returning in the next few months to hold public meetings. Everyone is welcome to attend.
You can also join the mailing list to receive our weekly updates: firstname.lastname@example.org