Eliminating a bovine disease

Photo: File.

Eradicating Mycoplasma bovis from New Zealand means anyone who owns cattle, even down to people with a lifestyle block, have their part to play.

On Tuesday the Ministry of Primary Industries confirmed that another Southland property had been infected with bovine disease Mycoplasma bovis, bringing the national total up to 24 properties.

Ministry for Primary Industries incident controller for Mycoplasma bovis response David Yard said before it hit New Zealand's shores last year, the country was one of two in the world — the other is Norway — that didn't have to contend with the bovine disease.

Eradication, at least for now, was still a feasible world-first attempt if cattle movements were properly tracked.

Mr Yard said the key route of entry for the disease was through the movement of cattle and for that reason MPI was pushing for all cattle owners to keep NAIT records updated to help the ministry track the movement of the disease.

"It affects large farmers, right up to very large corporate groups, right down to lifestyle blockers. The disease will not be dictated by size of operation, it will affect anybody."

Proper record keeping of movements was critical since the disease couldn't be reliably traced through watching symptoms develop in the cows. 

M bovis Action and Support Southland spokesman Bevan Collie said all cattle must be NAIT registered.

Mopping up all the loose ends entailed identifying any calves that may have gone to a neighbour or a lifestyle block that may have come from a larger property that could be suspected of being infected.

"That's one of the problems with a lot of these properties which have had Mycoplasma bovis. There may have been calves that have been sold to the next door neighbour or donated or given away as a form of payment.

"These calves are actually a big risk to the eradication of the disease.

"It only takes one infected animal to cause an outbreak." 

Mr Yard said it was important that owners of even a couple of cows kept accurate records since their cows were less likely to show symptoms. 

"You might only get one cow in a hundred showing symptoms. So if you've only got two [cows], the chances of showing symptoms are less," Mr Yard said.

It became "incredibly difficult" for MPI to track movements even between lifestyle blocks if they weren't recorded on NAIT, he said.

However movements aren't the only way the disease can spread. Mr Collie said the disease could also be spread either through "nose to nose" contact and feeding calves infected milk. 

The support group wanted to encourage lifestyle blockers who received milk for their calves from a larger farm to ask farmers if their operations had been tested for M bovis. 

Mr Collie also encouraged cattle owners, regardless of their how many they owned, to get in touch with MPI, their local vet, or the M bovis action group in Southland, if they had concerns about their animal registration. 

Both MPI and the M Bovis Support Group also wanted to push the message of on-farm biosecurity. 

"If we are able to eradicate the disease, and this would be the first time this disease has been eradicated in the world, nobody else has ever even attempted it, this would save farmers a huge on-cost going forward for years because they won't need to manage the disease if we can get rid of it," Mr Yard said.

"They should get behind us and help support us by filling in NAIT records and practicing good on-farm biosecurity."

Mr Yard said their eradication goals were based on the evidence that it was still feasible. The caveat was that if results from the ongoing milk testing programme showed significant numbers of new detections in new areas, then MPI may have to review that decision to eradicate.

Results from the national programme were expected to come back by the end of March, but interim results from the first round of testing from bulk samples were all currently negative, he said. 

"That's quite promising, and it does endorse our view that eradication may still be feasible."

More information and resources are available on MPI's website mpi.co.nz.

The M bovis Action and Support Southland website is mbovis.co.nz

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