The New Zealand Government has announced that it will seek to eradicate the cattle disease Mycoplasma bovis.

30 May 2018    The New Zealand Government has announced that it will seek to eradicate the cattle disease Mycoplasma bovis.

Mycoplasma bovis does not infect humans and presents no food safety risk. There is no risk to humans. It causes illness in cattle, including udder infection (mastitis), arthritis, abortion, and pneumonia. It is present and managed in most dairy producing countries, including the US, and is not considered a disease of relevance to trade by the World Animal Health Organisation (OIE). There are no regulatory restrictions for meat and dairy products related to Mycoplasma bovis.

The first case of Mycoplasma bovis was confirmed in New Zealand in July 2017. Prior to this New Zealand was one of just two countries without it.

 Since identification in July 2017, the New Zealand Government has been working with the cattle industries to track and contain Mycoplasma bovis and assess the potential for eradication. New Zealand’s intent to eradicate Mycoplama bovis is based on the animal health, welfare and productivity benefits. Currently there are 73 properties under Restricted Place Notice though that number is expected to grow.

Due to its isolated geography, New Zealand does not have many of the pests and diseases that are a feature of animal production elsewhere in the world. This is an important factor in the high standards of animal health and welfare, the low antibiotic use rates, and the high levels of animal productivity in New Zealand’s pastoral farming systems. If Mycoplasma bovis were to become endemic in New Zealand it would challenge some of the characteristics of New Zealand’s farmers’ world leading beef and dairy systems. To ensure the right decision was made, the Government commissioned independent technical advice from overseas experts who advised that eradication was feasible.

The eradication strategy will involve surveillance and depopulation of infected cattle herds. Modelling has estimated that roughly 126,000 animals will be culled during the course of a multi-year surveillance and eradication strategy. This represents approximately 1% of New Zealand’s cattle population. Most of these animals will be culled over the next two years.

Almost of all these animals will be slaughtered at meat processing plants. Animals without clinical signs can be slaughtered normally. However, livestock trucks that have transported cattle from infected farms will need to be washed and cleaned, and there are some restrictions on effluent from infected livestock being sprayed onto pasture.

The depopulation of infected herds is not expected to have more than a marginal impact of on New Zealand beef production. Neither Mycoplasma bovis nor the eradication strategy will affect the safety or quality of New Zealand meat products. This disease is present in other beef producing countries. New Zealand is seeking eradication because of the low number of herds currently infected and because of its impacts on farm production, animal health and welfare.

The strategy for responding to Mycoplasma bovis is of significant public interest in New Zealand. This is because dairy farming and beef farming sectors are major contributors to the New Zealand economy and employ many people. Containing and eradicating Mycoplasma bovis has meant, and will mean, some significant impacts for farming businesses involved in the tracing, surveillance, and depopulation. This is unfortunate but necessary to protect the majority of the cattle herds and farms from the need to manage Mycoplasma bovis in the future. New Zealand’s Ministry for Primary Industries is working with dairy and beef industry organisations to support farmers through this process.

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