M bovis: D-day for dairy, beef farmers as cull call looms

Dairy and beef farmers will today find out whether an attempt will be made to eradicate the cattle-disease Mycoplasma bovis, or instead go for containment.

Cows on the first farm infected with mycoplasma bovis. Photo: RNZ / Alexa Cook

The disease was discovered in July last year and since then 39 farms have been confirmed as infected, but that has now dropped to 37 farms, with more than 11,000 cattle slaughtered.

The bacterium causes illness in cattle, including udder infections, abortion, pneumonia and arthritis.

It doesn‘t affect humans and MPI says it presents no food safety risk.

Agriculture Minister Damien O‘Connor said a large percentage of the cattle that had been killed so far were healthy animals.

He said if the government opted for eradication, that would continue.

“There are still hard calls to be made, whatever direction we head in.

“The industry knows this and [it] realises that the decision will be the best one for their long-term interests and future generations in farming so no easy calls on this, but we appreciate that the industry leaders are sitting down – we‘re of one mind that we want to do the very best for farmers.”

Mr O‘Connor said even if they opted for containment, animals might still have to be culled.

“That‘s a realistic possibility – whatever the decision, reducing the infection load is a sensible thing to do with any disease management.”

National agriculture spokesperson Nathan Guy said he was being told that officials and industry leaders were reasonably confident they could eradicate the disease.

He said given the disease could be traced back to one farm was very helpful, but it was also possible there could be more infected farms.

“We‘re coming into the winter and also spring calvings. The reason I raise that is because this disease can hide and it takes the onset of stress for it to be picked up more easily in animals, and that‘s likely to come now we‘re seeing cooler temperatures and also if there is a bit of a feed pinch.”

Mr Guy, who was Agriculture Minister when the disease was discovered, was confident he and the National-led government did everything possible to deal with it at the time.

“I‘m open to my role and the National government‘s role [coming under] scrutiny, I‘ve said at some stage there will need to be an independent look back at what happened.

“I‘m sure there will be lessons that are learned from this, there always are after large biosecurity responses, but I‘m very confident in the role that I played to ensure that well resourced] to get on with the job.”

The Prime Minister and Agriculture Minister, along with industry leaders, will announce their decision at 4pm today.

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