An independent review of the Mycoplasma bovis eradication programme has found it is on track to rid New Zealand of the cattle disease.
The review found that the programme, a partnership between the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI), DairyNZ and Beef + Lamb New Zealand, has made many improvements after it scaled up quickly to prevent the spread of the disease.
Eradicating M. bovis would be a world-first.
"We have come a long way since the programme started," M. bovis Governance Group independent chair Kelvan Smith.
The improvements made to the programme had prevented long-term financial and animal welfare costs of endemic M. bovis in herds, Smith said.
"We've previously acknowledged the issues at the start of the programme and the Independent Review acknowledges that lessons have been learned and improvements made as the programme progressed."
Smith said there was "no denying" the disruption and stress experienced by farmers affected by the eradication programme.
"This review will help to ensure we have better systems and support in the future for disease responses."
The review panel's recommendations covered areas focused on responding to animal diseases – all of which MPI and its partners said they accepted and were implementing.
MPI Director-General Ray Smith said the M. bovis programme had provided valuable lessons for future disease responses.
These were being applied to areas of work, such as the Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) Readiness Programme.
While the programme had already led to changes across the biosecurity system, there was always room to improve, Ray Smith said.
"The review panel's recommendations will help us in the future."
"One of the key recommendations is that we all need to work more closely together to ensure the right capability and support is in place for people affected by a disease incursion."
Improvements already made or underway include
• The appointment of a new specialist welfare advisor within Biosecurity New Zealand to ensure a greater focus on the needs of people affected by future incursion responses.
• A new Chief Veterinary Officer for MPI to connect the Ministry's vets who practice across a wide range of activities; and build collaboration with the country's private veterinary network to enhance disease readiness.
• Investment in a new data strategy to ensure the information needs of biosecurity responses can be adequately met in future.
• An extensive programme of projects for increasing readiness for an FMD incursion is underway and much of this work is scalable to incursions of less severe impact.
• Threat-specific plans are in place for other diseases of concern.
• Work is underway with industry partners and networks outside of MPI, for example, veterinarians, to ensure the expertise in preparing for and responding to large scale animal incursions are identified, developed and maintained.
• The strengthening of importing requirements for cattle semen.
• Completion of the new National Biocontainment Laboratory at Wallaceville, which will enable improved disease diagnostic capability and capacity.
• The establishment of a cross-government and industry working group to plan the delivery of the review recommendations.
Review chair Professor Nicola Shadbolt said the panel considered the evolution of the M. bovis programme from its start in 2017 to today.
The review was informed by the experiences of both farmers and those who worked in the programme, she said.
She acknowledged the "significant impact" the eradication had had on farmers, rural communities, and those within the programme.
"A large number of people, including our farmers, worked incredibly hard to get to where we are now," Shadbolt said.
"We now need to make sure we capture these lessons learned, improve our preparedness for the next animal health response, have a world-class biosecurity system that all players commit to, and that will deliver."
Industry heads praised the review for highlighting improvements made to the delivery of the programme, as well as showing what could help biosecurity responses in the future.
DairyNZ chair Jim van der Poel said the biosecurity response and management of M. Bovis had been challenging, especially for farmers directly affected.
The review would help ensure that Government and industry were better prepared for any future incursion, he said.
"It's vital we get it right for farmers."
A cross-government and industry working group, coupled with ongoing biosecurity and farm management practices, would help strengthen the work DairyNZ does, Van der Poel said.
Beef + Lamb New Zealand chairman Andrew Morrison agreed.
"We owe it to those farmers affected by M. bovis to ensure the eradication programme and future biosecurity responses are the best they can be," Morrison said.
"By working together, and with the right commitment, we can make the necessary and enduring improvements to biosecurity. We look forward to working in partnership with MPI to achieve this."
Mycoplasma bovis programme snapshot
• There are now four active confirmed properties compared to 16 at the same time in 2019. All current properties are in Canterbury.
• A total of 268 confirmed properties have been cleared and nearly 173,000 cattle culled.
• 18 farms are under notices of direction (NOD) compared with 297 at the same time in 2019.
• The time under NOD has dropped from 97 days average to 27 days in the past two years.
• $212 million compensation has been paid across 2676 claims. Just 53 claims are currently open – 1.9 per cent of the total.
• Since the beginning of the response, the average number of working days to pay an M. bovis non-complex claim has reduced from 47 days to 20 days.
• 2,444,594 tests have been carried out for M. bovis.
A report by a Technical Advisory Group (TAG) released in July this year acknowledged the improvements made to the programme to lessen the impact on affected farmers, their whānau, workers and rural communities.
It also confirmed New Zealand is on track to eradicate the disease.
The review can be found on MPI's website here.