NZ Farmer - Government to announce Mycoplasma decision Monday

Written by Gerard Hutching

The Government will decide whether to proceed with complete eradication of the cattle disease Mycoplasma bovis on Monday after Cabinet meets.

Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor told reporters after a meeting he and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern had with industry leaders on Tuesday he would put a paper before his ministerial colleagues.

"It's really important to have all the facts before us to make the decision, we've shared all those facts today with industry leaders so we're now in a better position."

"The process is that it will go through Cabinet. A paper will be going up there, [although] I can't guarantee it will go through," O'Connor said.

Last week O'Connor said there were two options: either full eradication or long-term management of the disease, which has infected 44 farms (five of which have had their stock destroyed). More infected properties are expected to come.

He said the Government and industry would decide, not the Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI).

"MPI will be part of the solution, but ultimately it's important industry and Government make the decision and get on with it," O'Connor said.

Organisations represented at the meeting were DairyNZ, Beef +Lamb NZ, Federated Farmers, Rural Women New Zealand, Dairy Companies Association of New Zealand and the Meat Industry Association.

Ardern said the groups had not yet come to a unanimous decision but " we're trying to move as quickly as we can".

"There are no points of contest. We're working through all the information, nothing is holding us up."

Either way farmers stand to lose. The eradication programme so far has taken an emotional toll as they have seen their stock head towards the freezing works, and compensation has trickled through.

From an economic standpoint, if New Zealand managed the disease similar to bovine tuberculosis, it is thought it would mean a 10-year production loss cost compared with if the culling policy was continued.

Federated Farmers president Katie Milne said while Mycoplasma bovis was challenging, the degree of cooperation was positive.

"If there is one positive it is how farmers, farmer representatives and Government are working together. Whatever option is taken, we need to keep doing that."

O'Connor said so far the Government had made an investment of $100 million towards the response, including funding compensation for affected farmers, a national bulk milk testing programme to help determine the geographic spread, and steps to upgrade the NAIT animal tracking system.

Meanwhile MPI has confirmed a farm owned by Alfons and Gea Zeestraten in Southland had the earliest known Mycoplasma bovis infection, dating back to between December 2015 and January 2016.

However a spokeswoman said MPI could not yet say that the farm was the origin of the disease in New Zealand.

"Tracing activities continue and we cannot rule out finding a farm that could have been infected at an earlier date," she said.

The Zeestratens own three farms in Southland under the Southern Centre Dairies banner.

Alfons said on Tuesday he did not want to comment on the matter, except to say all his cattle had been destroyed. He would not say how many, but on the farm website it states it had 2400 milking cows several years ago and was working towards building to 2500 this year.

Earlier in the year he said before the advent of Mycoplasma "we were sitting in heaven then we dropped into hell".

The disease was first detected on July 21 last year at a property owned by Aad and Wilma van Leeuwen of South Canterbury, even though it has now been found to have been present longer.