The latest technical data shows New Zealand's world-first plan to eradicate cattle disease Mycoplasma bovis is on track, says Agriculture and Biosecurity Minister Damien O'Connor.
"Two years ago the Government, DairyNZ and Beef + Lamb New Zealand and industry partners made a bold decision to go hard and commit to a 10-year, $880 million programme to eradicate M. bovis to protect our most important sector and the economy" said O'Connor.
Recent events had shown what an important moment the decision was for the economy, said O'Connor.
"Had we thrown up our hands and said 'it's too hard' and left this disease to run rampant, I'm not sure our dairy and beef sectors would have been able to weather the economic storm of Covid-19 and the challenges of drought conditions as well as they have".
O'Connor said beef and dairy export prices had held up, and there was "record demand for our meat"
In March total red meat monthly exports topped $1 billion for the first time, which showed that these sectors were well-placed "to lead us out of this economic crisis" said O'Connor.
New Zealand had shown, "that we're able to do what others countries have not in terms of disease eradication efforts" said O'Connor.
"That's something our farming community should be really proud of. I'm certainly very proud of them".
The Estimated Dissemination Rate (EDR), was one key measure of success which showed "that we have M. bovis firmly in our sights" said O'Connor.
If the EDR is greater than one, then the disease is growing. If it's below one, the disease is shrinking.
"The EDR is now at 0.4, which is down from over two at the start of the outbreak, so we are looking harder to find fewer infected animals. This tells us that M. bovis is not endemic in our national herd" said O'Connor.
There are currently 17 active properties and 232 that have been cleared of the disease. There have been 154,788 cattle culled.
O'Connor said other key measures showed the programme was working:
• Genetic testing showed only one strain has been identified, which linked all infected farms.
• Bulk milk testing was timelier and research was under way to improve testing further.
• A beef surveillance programme was up and running.
• Compensation processes had improved for affected farmers.
• Use of NAIT, the national animal tracing system, was improving.
DairyNZ chair Jim van der Poel said there was no question M. bovis had had a huge impact on the sector, particularly those affected farmers and their families.
"While there's still work to do, farmer feedback has been heard and processes improved. We are seeing more farmer-focused processes and shorter turnaround times for farms under movement restrictions" said Van der Poel.
"From here, we want to continue speeding up the process so farmers are moving through the programme as quickly as possible. M. bovis has been one of our biggest biosecurity incursions and it has highlighted how crucial biosecurity is for New Zealand."
Andrew Morrison, chairman of Beef + Lamb New Zealand, said farmers deserved a lot of credit for their efforts in helping to free New Zealand of the cattle disease.
"Although there is still a long way to go, the sector can be proud of its contribution. We are encouraged by the increasing number of farmers meeting their NAIT obligations but we are still short of where we need to be".
"It is vital we continue to lift this compliance, otherwise we will remain vulnerable to diseases. As the response to Mycoplasma bovis has found, there is a significant cost to the sector if farmers do not comply with NAIT. It's also vital farmers maintain complete and accurate NAIT records for the speedy tracing of animals and ultimately to protect the industry".
The priority over the next 12-18 months continued to be finding and eliminating the disease, said O'Connor.
"This 'delimiting' phase is expected to end in 2021. After that, background surveillance testing will continue for around seven years".
"We will get another technical advisory group report in the coming months, but two years into a 10-year effort, I'm pleased by the progress made".