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UPDATE: Government opts for $886M 'phased eradication'

UPDATE: Government opts for $886M 'phased eradication' of Mycoplasma bovis

(Updates to add comment from PM, Agriculture Minister throughout)

By Rebecca Howard

May 28 (BusinessDesk) - The government will try to eradicate the Mycoplasma bovis cattle disease that was first detected nearly a year ago to protect the national herd and the long-term productivity of the farming sector.

If successful it will be a world first.

"It is in the national interest of our country to be free of Mycoplasma bovis," Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told a press briefing in Wellington.

“Today’s decision to eradicate the disease is driven by the government’s desire to protect the national herd from the disease and protect the base of our economy – the farming sector,” she said. "Our plan to eradicate Mycoplasma bovis over time will require significant resources from both government and the industry but to not act would cost even more."

She said the government's recent budget is prepared for the cost. "We delivered a surplus for the very reason that we wanted a buffer for a rainy day. This is a rainy day."

The decision, dubbed 'phased eradication', was made collectively by the government and farming sector bodies and the estimated cost is $886 million over 10 years.

Phased eradication involves ongoing depopulation and includes any new infected properties.

Of the total cost, $16 million is attributed to the loss of production and borne by farmers while $870 million is the cost of the response, including compensation. The government expects most of the eradication work to be carried out in one to two years.

The government will meet 68 percent of the $870 million, or about $592 million, and DairyNZ and Beef+Lamb New Zealand will meet 32 percent, or about $278 million.

“Over 99 percent of our dairy herds in New Zealand have no signs of this disease, and we want to keep it that way", said Jim van der Poel, DairyNZ chair.

According to Agriculture and Biosecurity Minister Damien O’Connor "the reason we are doing this is that farming is our single biggest export earner and the livestock part is the biggest chunk of that. We need to protect that export earning capacity in our country," he said.

According to the Ministry for Primary Industries, so far some 26,000 cows have been culled and it estimates another 126,000 cattle will need to be slaughtered as phased eradication will involve killing all cattle on all infected properties along with cattle on most restricted properties.

All infected farms found in the future will be depopulated. Following depopulation and disinfection, farms will lie fallow for 60 days after which they can be restocked.

According to MPI’s modelling, in year one 142 farms will need to be depopulated and 192 in total.

There are currently 67 restricted properties. Of those, 37 are active infected properties.

Intensive active surveillance, including testing and tracing, will continue. There will be some flexibility for farmers in the timing of culling to offset production losses.

Importantly, the government promises to improve the compensation claim process. MPI said a substantial part of farmers’ claim for culled cows should now take four-to-10 days, with a fully verified claim taking two-to-three weeks.

When asked about the possible success of attempting eradication, MPI director of readiness and response Geoff Gwyn said “I don’t think there’s any cast iron guarantee here. I think what we are doing here is having the best shot at eradication” and noted that if the country doesn’t try immediately eradication will be off the table.

Ardern said "we are taking this opportunity because this is our one opportunity ... we know that other countries exist with this diseases but we want New Zealand to be free of it and this is our opportunity to be that country."

She said New Zealand's borders make it possible and "we do believe that we are taking it on at a point where it is possible to eradicate." O'Connor also noted that only one strain of the disease has been identified and "we believe that's come from one source."

MPI said there may come a time when “we may have to concede that living with it and managing it within our herds is the most sensible way forward. We are not there now.”

A further round of national bulk milk surveillance testing is scheduled in spring and the government will assess the direction of the operation based on that and other information in late 2018 or early 2019.

Long-term management has a projected cost of $1.2 billion. Of this, $698 million is the loss of production borne by farmers and $520 million of response costs. Taking no action is estimated to cost the industry $1.3 billion in lost production over a 10-year period, said Ardern.

(BusinessDesk)

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