Eradication of Mycoplasma bovis is still the Ministry for Primary Industry’s goal but farmers appear unconvinced it is achievable.
Another case confirmed on an Ashburton farm this week took the total to 14 but some of the more than 800 farmers who attended packed meetings with MPI officials in Methven and Ashburton last Thursday think that while admirable, eradication is unlikely and they might have to learn to live with the disease.
The ministry’s response incident controller David Yard announced plans to test three samples of milk from every dairy farm in the country from February, including milk entering the food chain as well as milk excluded from the vat in a bid to uncover any infection clusters.
One sample will be taken as part of regular bulk milk collection and farmers will be required to provide two samples from discarded milk. Yard said that would equate to about 36,000 samples nationally.
“Mycoplasma bovis is more easily identified in milk taken from otherwise sick animals, which makes testing of the discard milk a valuable surveillance tool,” Yard said.
Mid Canterbury dairy farmer Will Grayling was one of nearly 500 who attended the Ashburton meeting and he said while officials were determined to eradicate Mycoplasma bovis the feeling at the meeting was that would be a challenge.
But the experts must have concluded it was still achievable.
“They are the ones in the know so you have got to take their word for it.”
Grayling said those attending the Ashburton meeting were keen to listen but officials made farmers aware of the importance of recording stock movements, something many had not done and which had made tracking the disease more difficult.
“There was no shirking of responsibility but we have never had the need to have done this before but it has become apparent that we need to up our game.”
Farmer Willy Leferink said many at the Methven meeting questioned whether eradication was possible given the difficulties identifying and dealing with the disease and with new outbreaks well away from the source.
Leferink said MPI officials were told restrictions were disrupting normal business such as livestock trade and farm purchases.
“There are wider implications than the disease itself and the eradication of it.”
Leferink said there was also growing frustration among farmers that infected properties were not being identified, not to incriminate those farmers, but to offer support.
Infected farms and those farming adjacent properties were being ostracised and abandoned without any help from the local community because their plight was not known, Leferink said.
Farmers were also told sales of milk to calf rearers and calves drinking infected milk then being sold could spread the disease but fertiliser spreaders and contractors were a low risk.
The latest outbreak near Ashburton was different to the case MPI said it was investigating before Christmas with the infection discovered from bulk testing of milk samples and confirmed with blood and antibody tests.
MPI could not yet confirm if it was linked to the van Leeuwen property in South Canterbury where Mycoplasma was first detected.
MPI was tracing animal movements between the farm and other infected properties, which potentially could be an association to 30 other farms.
The goal of eradicating Mycoplasma was based on a recommendation from an international panel of experts convened to provide advice on the New Zealand outbreak, which concluded eradication was feasible and the right course of action.
“It is a huge benchmark to achieve but our aim at the present time.”
The 14 infected farms were nine in South Canterbury, three in Southland, one at Ashburton and one in Hawke’s Bay but the meetings were told more cases were being found because MPI was looking for them.
Yard said tracing stock movement had been an uphill battle because of incomplete records being kept by farmers who were not complying with the National Animal Identification and Tracing programme (NAIT).
“We are finding many are not NAIT-compliant which is making it 10 times harder for us.”
He urged farmers to practice onfarm biosecurity to reduce the risk of the infection spreading, such using fencing to stop from cattle being in contact with other herds over a boundary fence.
Yard estimated 65,000 blood, milk and swab tests had been done so far to track the outbreak and a team of up to 200 people were working on it..