NZ Farmer - M. bovis neighbours to be informed

Written by Heather Chalmers

Farmers neighbouring properties infected with Mycoplasma bovis will now be directly informed by Ministry of Primary Industries' officials so they can better manage their on-farm security. 

While farmers have been calling for the move for some time, MPI had said it was constrained for privacy reasons. This led to a lot of rumour and speculation in rural communities, unless farmers with M. bovis were prepared to publicly out themselves.  

Agriculture and Biosecurity Minister Damien O'Connor said it was a measured step that balanced the privacy concerns of individuals with the need for farmers to protect their own farms.

"MPI will start directly informing neighbouring farms of infected properties or high-risk properties. This will mean farmers can take appropriate steps to improve their on-farm biosecurity and reduce the risk to their own stock."

Federated Farmers dairy chairman Chris Lewis said farmers would welcome the move "as long as it is used wisely and for the right reasons". 

"We have always encouraged dairy farmers with infected farms to inform their neighbours in a timely manner."

In another change that could be implemented quickly without legislation, MPI would publish a list of national animal identification and traceability (Nait) numbers of all affected animals on its website. This included all animals associated with or traced from an infected property, giving farmers better information to make informed decisions when purchasing new stock.

Lewis said this should have been done months ago as Nait tag numbers did not identify individual farmers. 

MPI would also do more to ensure enforcement of the Animal Status Declaration (ASD) form, which must accompany a consignment of cattle when a stock sale takes place, said O'Connor. 

"Farmers need to disclose the health history of their stock in the form and declare whether their farm is under any movement controls. They need to ensure they are completing the ASD form correctly and, along with greater compliance with Nait, this will support our efforts to eradicate M. bovis."

Regulation and legislation changes were also being considered, including amending the Animal Products Act to add a new infringement offence for failing to use the ASD form correctly, amending the NAIT Act to bring its search powers in line with the Search and Surveillance Act and new regulation to control the use of discarded milk. 

"I am continuing to listen to feedback from farmers and will work with MPI and industry groups to consider further changes to support strengthened biosecurity practices and compliance in our rural communities," O'Connor said.

As the M. bovis outbreak had highlighted failings and gaps in animal tracking, moves were underway to tighten compliance. MPI and Ospri, which manages Nait, said the immediate focus would be on farmers identified as multiple offenders over specific time periods, with letters issued warning them to comply. 

MPI manager of compliance investigations Gary Orr said knowledge of the Nait scheme had increased in the wake of the M. bovis response, "however some farmers are still ignoring their legal obligations".

"Both organisations have significantly stepped up their efforts to detect instances where animal movements have taken place without being recorded in the Nait database."

Since the start of the year, MPI had undertaken around 200 Nait compliance checks on farms and saleyards where cattle or deer were present. 

So far this year four infringement notices and four written warnings had been issued. There were eight ongoing investigations into farmers who had not complied with Nait. Likely fines were $150 or $300.

Additionally, as a result of Operation Strait in May, which involved checking cattle trucks transiting from south to north by ferry, seven instances of suspected infringeable offending were being investigated. 

Lewis said Nait was not easy to use, but technological improvements such as apps and scanners expected to be available by the end of the year, would help this. "You can't expect 100 per cent compliance when the system is not 100 per cent right."