28 May 2018

Farmers divided on how to deal with M bovis

1:09 pm on 28 May 2018

Today is a dramatic day for farmers as the government announces what it plans to do about the cattle disease Mycoplasma bovis.

Cattle

Photo: courtesy Beef and Lamb NZ

Some argue the outbreak can be contained without a mass killing of stock. Others say aggressive eradication is the only option, even if it means culling 100,000 animals.

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 prime minister and agriculture minister, along with industry leaders, will announce the action plan for the illness later today.

Three farmers spoken to by RNZ had very different ideas on how the illness should be dealt with.

Linda Burgess, who farms in Canterbury, told Morning Report she received a phone call from the Ministry for Primary Industries on 12 December telling her she had some animals which were possibly infected with Mycoplasma bovis because of where they were born.

She said paperwork relating to that arrived a month later and MPI did its first blood tests on her stock in February.

"That showed 70 heifers and one bull with high antibodies."

"The second test they did ... we got 40 high antibodies. I questioned that and said how could this be because I was led to believe once they had it, they had it."

Ms Burgess said the third test, a swab test was taken in March or early April and involved the 40 animals which had tested as having high antibodies.

"They nasal swabbed those, it was weeks and weeks and we kept on saying, 'why aren't we hearing a result?' And when we finally got the result, the result was totally negative, not one swab had returned anything to show that they had it."

Ms Burgess is questioning the consistency and reliability of the tests and believes given the results from her farm, containment would be the best way of dealing with Mycoplasma bovis.

However Southland farmer, Ben Walling believes responsible culling is the only option.

He said he received some calves on his farm which were pretty highly infected, which led to his farm being designated an infected property.

"We had to have all the calves taken off the property over a few months. It was very painful and slow. There were about 1700 of them.

"If the government is going to do it, get on and do it properly.

"Responsible culling is the only option because when you get an infection MPI will come under the Animal Welfare Act and that will lead to culling and under that Act there is no compensation so you're going to be a lot worse off."

Ben Moore, who farms in Matamata, is in favour of trying to eradicate Mycoplasma bovis, but said there were so many unknowns about the disease that it had to be handled in a way that was fair for all farmers.

He said New Zealand was one of the best places in the world to farm, but if Mycoplasma bovis was not brought under control, it could lead to sanctions such as he saw when he was farming in the United Kingdom.

"A lot of closed herds and a lot of guys have their own trucks and cart stock behind tractors to the works and keep bulls on their farms.

"It will change dairying as we see it today and sharemilking."

The government announcement on Mycoplasma bovis will be made at 4pm today.

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