Independent TAG report supports ongoing improvements to M. bovis Programme

The latest report from the independent Technical Advisory Group (TAG) for the Mycoplasma bovis (M. bovis) Programme concludes that achieving eradication is feasible, and supports the changes the programme has made over the past six months.

The 18 October report supports the findings of the earlier Paskin (DairyNZ) and Roche (MPI) reviews and acknowledges the substantial changes made to the programme based on those reports, including improvements to information management systems, resourcing, management, and communications.

The TAG made 10 recommendations, which the programme has accepted. The TAG highlighted four recommendations as being the highest priority:

  • The surveillance options for defining and declaring biological freedom need to be assessed and the appropriate options selected.
  • The scoping, development and implementation of the next phase of the information systems should be fast-tracked.
  • The proposed surveillance systems for non-dairy systems including cow-calf operations, calf-rearing enterprises, replacement dairy groups and the like, be implemented as soon as possible.
  • The impact of the surge should be evaluated and feasibility of achieving biological freedom should be re-evaluated when the information management systems are fully functional and enough data has been accrued.

The TAG report (it can be found here) notes that while it is too early to measure the operational impact of those changes, (which have been put in place since June 2019), there are positive signs of improved performance, including a downward trend in infected places, shorter times for risk movements to be dealt with, and a decreasing conversion rate of high-risk farms being confirmed as infected.

MPI director-general Ray Smith says, that “the report has provided us with assurance that the programme is working, and that we’ve made the right changes and improvements over the past 6 months to improve the programme, and support affected farmers.

“M. bovis is one of the greatest biosecurity challenges we have faced in New Zealand, and both Government and our industry partners remain committed to achieving eradication while reducing the impact of that process on affected farmers as much as possible.

“The battle isn’t won yet – we still have hard work to do, and there will be more farms placed under restrictions while testing is conducted. We also know that there are areas, like compensation, where we need to continue to improve.”

“Over $100 million in compensation has been paid out, and for most people the process is effective. However, we know that some complex claims are still taking too long – and we are working on reducing that wait.”

DairyNZ chief executive Tim Mackle says that the report builds on important information for the programme going forward.

“Speed and efficiency is key, as the quicker infected properties are found and placed under restrictions, the sooner we win this battle for New Zealand farmers.

“We are nearly 18 months into working to get rid of this disease, and it is positive to see a decline in the number of infected dairy farms. However, there are still 61 dairy farms under movement restrictions. We understand the stress and worry involved for those farmers and our priority remains supporting them.  

“We believe maintaining a collaborative approach is the best option for all farmers. By sitting at the table we can ensure that dairy farmers are getting value for money, performance is monitored, processes are improved, costs are scrutinised and that dairy farmers’ views are represented to government.

“We want to thank every farmer that has been affected by M. bovis for their strength and resilience in the face of the uncertainty they’re facing. Being involved brings enormous pressure and challenge – being put under restrictions, undergoing testing, and for the worst affected, depopulation of their herds.”

Beef + Lamb New Zealand chief executive Sam McIvor says,

“Although we are starting to see more beef farmers (overwhelmingly bull-beef) under restrictions, these are generally risk movements from cattle that have come out of the dairy herd and are terminal because these animals are finished and processed. Also, disease tracing shows us that once infected, dry stock herds do not readily transmit disease to other herds, increasing the chances of successful eradication over the longer term.

“We will continue to sit at the table with government and DairyNZ to ensure this programme has the greatest chance of success, and that farmers are represented every step of the way.”

To date, 4% of farms in New Zealand have been under restrictions and required testing due to M. bovis, and just under 0.8% of farms have been infected.

The independent Technical Advisory Group to the M. bovis Programme is an international group of technical experts who provide critical advice and review of the Programme’s work and progress towards eradication.

You can check out its membership here. 

Source:  Ministry for Primary Industries

Author: Bob Edlin

Editor of AgScience Magazine and Editor of the AgScience Blog

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