An eradication program in New Zealand is working to rid the country of the cattle disease Mycoplasma bovis, and as a result 50,000 cows have been culled with nearly as many still to be killed. If the program is successful New Zealand would become the first country to rid itself of the disease.
Thus far, there have been 50,000 cows culled and the program was slated to eliminate up to 100,000 head. While M. bovis doesn’t pose a risk to consumers of beef or dairy the government and industry have spearheaded an eradication program because of the costly implications of an outbreak to the domestic herd. The bacterial disease results in a number of conditions in cattle like mastitis, pneumonia, abortions and lameness.
On Dec. 17, government officials were touting the success of the program.
“At this stage I have confidence the approach we are taking to eradicate is the right one and we remain committed to this,” says Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.
When the program was originally announced it the government expected 126,000 cows to be culled. The figured has been backed down to 100,000 head. The government is funding approximately 68% of the response, while industry is accounting for the remainder.
“Based on all the evidence presented to us, we are confident that eradication is possible and that we are on track in what’s a world-first but necessary action to preserve the value of our national herd and economic base,” adds Agriculture Minister Damen O'Connor.
Cattle are an important part of New Zealand’s agriculture economy. Beef exports came in at more than $2 billion (NZ$3 billion) for the 2017-18 season, up 14% from the previous time period. Dairy is even more valuable with $11.87 billion (NZ$16.667 billion) worth of products exported from the country in the first six months of 2018.
Industry groups have been encouraged by the success of the program.
“We are cautiously optimistic, and still have fingers and everything else crossed,” says Federated Farmers dairy chair Chris Lewis. “It would be a massive achievement to beat the disease.”
DairyNZ has been appreciative of the work that has been done and believes farmers will benefit in the long run.
“It hasn’t been easy for the 1,000 farmers affected, whether they were under active surveillance or restriction, or the disease was found on their farm. DairyNZ is here to support our farmers and we are actively involved every day in managing this disease out of New Zealand, whether it’s providing advice on biosecurity measures on farm, or through the on the ground teams supporting impacted farmers,” says Jim van der Poel, DairyNZ Chair.
Officials from DairyNZ and Beef + Lamb New Zealand are planning to have consultations with farmers in late January to get feedback on the program.
“The progress so far illustrates the value of a collaborative approach to fighting M. bovis with government and industry working in partnership,” says Beef + Lamb New Zealand Chairman Andrew Morrison. “Our view has always been that eradication was only on the table for a limited time and once it was off the table, it would be off forever, so we had to give this a go.”
M. bovis was first discovered on the South Island of New Zealand in July 2017. New Zealand is home to approximately 6.5 million dairy cattle and 3.5 million beef cattle.