New Zealand is on the verge of eradicating the painful cattle disease


New Zealand is on the verge of eradicating a painful disease from its herd of 10 million cattle after a four-year campaign that has cost hundreds of millions of dollars and resulted in the killing of more than 175,000 cows.

Agriculture Secretary Damien O’Connor said Thursday that 271 farms had been cleared of Mycoplasma bovis and only one farm in the country still had the bacterial disease. New Zealand would be the first country to have managed to wipe it out completely.

In an interview with The Associated Press, O’Connor said it was a traumatic process for the farmers involved. If an infection was detected on a farm, even healthy cows would be killed to ensure the disease was eradicated.

“I would say every farmer was very unhappy to have their herd culled,” O’Connor said. “These are people who have strong connections, commitment and investment in their animals.”

Agriculture is the country’s largest exporter and vital to its economy. When Mycoplasma bovis was first discovered in New Zealand in 2017, it sparked a major government response, which concluded that there was a golden opportunity to eradicate the disease before it became widespread.

Mycoplasma bovis, found in cattle in the US and Europe, is a bacterium that can cause mastitis, pneumonia, arthritis, and other painful conditions in cows. The bacterium is not considered a food safety threat, but the resulting diseases in cows can cause distress and result in reduced milk and beef yields.

O’Connor said the last farm with the disease was a feed yard where cattle were fattened before slaughter. He said the farm would be cleared of the disease later this year and it would take several more months of surveillance across the country after that to declare victory.

He said the New Zealand campaign is groundbreaking.

“It’s of tremendous importance, and I think there are other countries with M. bovis that will also try to find out more about their eradication capabilities,” O’Connor said.

He said the final cost of the eradication program is likely to be slightly below the projected NZ$886 million (US$580 million), money that was spent on operations, monitoring and compensation. The government pays most of the bill, with farmers and livestock also contributing.

It’s unclear how the disease first made its way to New Zealand, which has strict biosecurity controls. One theory is that it arrived in imported bull semen.

Fiona Doolan-Noble, a senior research fellow at the University of Otago who has studied the eradication program, said government officials might have been better at listening to the expertise of local veterinarians and farmers at first, but she thought communication had improved over time .

She said there is a possibility the disease could re-enter New Zealand, although the country’s experience not only with the disease but also with COVID-19 has raised awareness of the need for stricter biosecurity measures.

New Zealand has 6.3 million dairy cows and 4 million beef cattle, making its total herd twice the size of its human population. Dairy products are the country’s largest single export, with much of it being sold to China, where it is used in infant formula.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the government’s partnership with agriculture has been critical to the programme’s success.

“When we made our one attempt at eradication, we did so to protect our national flock from a painful disease, our economy from a sharp shock, and our rural communities from widespread fear,” Ardern said.

AP New Zealand is on the verge of eradicating the painful cattle disease

Fry Electronics Team

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