A decision on a cattle cull to wipe Mycoplasma bovis from New Zealand is set to be made by the end of March.
Southern Centre Dairies co-owner Alfons Zeestraten said it was good to have a date for the decision, as a decision would remove the current uncertainty and allow farmers whose cattle were affected by the disease to start looking to the future.
Three Southern Centre Dairies properties in Winton were the first in Southland where the disease was identified in December 2017.
The disease has also spread to a propertiesLumsden, Invercargill, and Gore.
The Ministry for Primary Industries has set an end of March deadline for a decision on whether a culling programme would be initiated to eradicate the disease, or whether it had spread too far for eradication to be feasible.
Through numerous tracing and testing programmes the ministry has identified farms affected by the disease and placed restriction on cattle movement to prevent further spread of the disease.
If all affected properties have been identified, a cull of the cattle on affected farms should eliminate the disease from New Zealand.
A ministry spokesperson said that if the ministry was to go ahead with the culling of stock as part of the eradication of the disease, there were currently 21,000 head of cattle on infected farms that would be affected nationally.
Federated Farmers Southland president Allan Baird said given the complexity of the task, the end of Marchwas a reasonable date for a decision should the ministry be able to hold to it.
If the ministry did proceed with the eradication of the disease through a cull, Baird said it would take the form of an orderly process of cows going to slaughter premises, as M bovis does not pose any risk to humans and the meat from the cattle is fit for consumption.
However, he cautioned that it would be a time consuming process, as cleaning a farm that had been affected required the farm to be free from cattle for at least 60 days.
“It would take many months to depopulate those farms and work through the cleaning process,” he said.
The ministry had to ensure that there was a process in place for farmers to put their claims to MPI and that MPI will deal with those claims in a reasonable time frame, he said.
“We won’t get rid of the disease unless farmers are comfortable that they won’t be worse off,” Baird said.
“We want all these farmers to be part of the process.”
Fonterra Farm Source Otago-Southland head Mark Robinson said the response rate from its farmers to the national milk testing programme had been excellent.
“Of course there is concern, but we all want to make sure we get to a resolution as quickly as possible,” he said.
Robinson said the disease has not impacted the Fonterra’s milk volume, but they had made some changes to procedures to help with the containment of the disease.
Even though the ministry has said that the risk of the disease being spread by vehicles is minimal, Fonterra changed its collection routes where M bovis is present to ensure that affected properties are at the end of a run to prevent any risk of the disease being spread.
Should a cull be instituted, it would have a short-term impact on milk volumes, but the focus had to be on the long-term health of the industry, Robinson said.
The ministry’s national surveillance programme, which involves testing milk from dairy farms around the country, was likely end by the end of March.
A decision that eradication might not be feasible could be made if the testing programme were to reveal significant numbers of infected properties not associated with the two known clusters of infected farms, the spokesperson said.
However, the first round of testing on tanker milk showed no new infections outside the previously identified affected farms.
The testing of discard milk from farms was still to be concluded, and as the milk from visibly sick cows would be included in discard rather than tanker milk, there was the potential that this further round of testing could identify more affected farms.
The ministry was also looking at the movement of milk for calf feed as part of their tracing programme, as milk from cows infected with M bovis can spread the disease to otherwise healthy calves.
As the deadline for making a decision on the response to M bovis closes in, the ministry has also expanded the date range for contact with the infected properties it is investigating.
There was still no definitive date for when the infection arrived in New Zealand, the spokesperson said.
Source: The Southland Times