NZ Farmer - MPI response system robust, says biosecurity head

Written by Roger Smith

In response to Duncan Garner's Saturday column on the effects of Mycoplasma bovis, Roger Smith, the head of Biosecurity New Zealand, looks at the efforts to contain the disease and to give us choices for the future. 

OPINION: Duncan Garner's recent opinion piece about MPI's response to Mycoplasma bovis is factually incorrect in places, and unintelligible in others.

At the start of the piece Mr Garner suggests that MPI let the disease into the country. New Zealand has a robust biosecurity system, and there are a raft of success stories that demonstrate how effective it has been.

But to suggest, as Mr Garner has done, that New Zealand can be totally water-tight and any incursions are due to MPI "letting" it into the country are untrue and unfair.

The only way we could guarantee that is to shut down our borders completely, and as we've seen with myrtle rust, which is carried in the wind, even that might not be 100 per cent effective.

I would like to reassure all New Zealanders that MPI has a very good model for managing biosecurity responses which allows us to respond swiftly and consistently to incursions.

Mycoplasma bovis is no different. We know this situation is really tough on affected farmers. We also know our response to date has, at times, not been perfect and it has been harder on individuals than it should have been. Where this is the case, we look to address problems as quickly as possible. But we are trying something no other country has tried – to contain the disease and to give us choices for the future.

I would also stress that it is not just MPI working on this response – industry organisations like Beef + Lamb New Zealand, DairyNZ and Federated Farmers have been a key part of it.

Mr Garner questions MPI's readiness to manage other potential biosecurity incursions such as foot and mouth disease, but again shows a woeful lack of knowledge.

Biosecurity New Zealand and the animal industries are ready to respond to FMD (Foot and Mouth Disease) if it ever enters New Zealand. We have a highly detailed operational plan ready and we review and update it regularly based on exercises and on what we learn from other responses.

One of the big challenges with Mycoplasma bovis is the ability to test for it. Unlike FMD, it is incredibly hard to test for in individual animals and often the disease can hide in the animal with no clinical signs for a long time. This makes it very hard to trace the spread of the disease and do something about it.

Furthermore, Mr Garner mentions the 2013 Office of the Auditor General (OAG) report on how prepared MPI was to manage biosecurity responses, including FMD, and how well it did at responding.

Since that time MPI has done an extensive amount of work on how it prepares for and responds to biosecurity incursions. I suggest Mr Garner take the time to read the 2015 follow-up report which commends MPI for its progress in improving its readiness for a large biosecurity response.

Once he has taken the time to do his homework, perhaps he would like to apologise to our hardworking staff who work day and night to protect our country from unwanted pests and diseases.

Mr Garner seems to have a strong opinion regarding the likelihood of eradication of this disease. Readers should note Cabinet is expected to make a decision on Monday, May 28, regarding the future of the Mycoplasma bovis response.

On the table are two key options – either completely getting rid of the disease from New Zealand over time or managing it long-term.

Finally, I would like to say this to Mr Garner - farmers across our country are worried sick about this disease. In particular, it is a very difficult time for farmers who have been directly affected. They need our support.

What they don't need is shallow and incorrect analysis.