Minister cynical about M. bovis Minister talks to Makur¯ı’s farmers on M. Bovis plan
Neighbouring farmers to the M. bovis disease infected Rangedale Landcorp farm east of Pahiatua met for the fourth time at Makurı¯ on Thursday to hear directly from the Minister of Agriculture, Damian O’Connor, about the recent decision to continue with phased eradication of M. bovis.
He had only just flown back from a meeting in Ashburton the night before where 600 frustrated farmers turned out in force, but made the effort to drive out to Makurı¯.
“It’s a bugger — no one wanted this when it was first discovered. I think it was underestimated because it didn’t shut down the trade borders overnight,” said Damian O’Connor.
“There was a bit of a casual approach to it across the board — it’s not Foot and Mouth, it’s ok to eat. Up to 180,000 tests have been carried out now. It’s a curse of a disease. From a farmers’ perspective, you didn’t know whether you’ve got it or not, it’s hard to test for, you don’t know whether the animals are going to react or not and there are a lot of unknowns which means how to manage it is an unknown as well.
“As we’ve worked through to find out how it came in after testing on the Winton property in the South Island, it was found to be just one strain of the disease. We started the cull and learned more as we went on every day. We had discussions with the industry leaders and they came up with consensus on it.
“It didn’t take too long to work out that we’ve got a chance, let’s go for phase eradication. If you want to knock down the infection and get rid of it, even long-term management depends on having less of the infection than you want.
“We have made the decision, Cabinet has committed a lot of money and industry and farmers will have to commit some as well to that. The consensus at the Ashburton meeting was that we’re committed to eradication, so we’ll move on down that path.
■ “It’s going to be really hard for people who will see their herds taken. “We will say to farmers “how do you want to phase it or how do you want to work it?” Every farmer is in a different situation. There is a number of challenges: around the Privacy Act (this is being debated with the Privacy Commissioner) how much can be disclosed to who? In my view, all neighbours should be notified, it’s very complex, very challenging. We’re putting the most senior staff on to manage that.”
■ Landcorp is going to Massey to try and work together to develop a test that gives a better indication of individual animal infection rather than herd infection. “If we can nail that, we’d all be better off. We wouldn’t have to kill healthy animals. There’s an emotional reaction to this from the public 192,000 animals are to be culled from 20,000 farms. That’s 1 per cent. In doing this we can protect the 99 per cent from what is going to be a cost to production and an additional cost to management where we’ve got to manage a future with M. bovis,” said the Minister.
■ Emil Murphy, senior policy advisor MPI, said neighbouring properties will be part of targeted surveillance. The key is tracing the disease faster than it is spreading.
■ “No one’s ever done it — we should have a go,” said Damian O’Connor. “My father had a saying that if you are going to buy a bull, check the breeding of the person selling it, not the breeding of the bull. There’s some wisdom in that. You’ve got to work with trusted sellers and you’ve got to trust the person.
“I was flabbergasted when I found out that NAIT numbers go to people, not to individual properties. There are some major flaws in the NAIT system that we need to improve,” he said.
■ A farmer at the meeting said “there’s an issue for stud breeders who are afraid of the false positives of 1 per cent for semen and 4 per cent for blood. It’s a poison chalice. We’re all afraid of being tested,” he said.
The Minister said that another 50 people are coming on board this week to boost the numbers at Biosecurity New Zealand.
Minister of Agriculture Damian O’Connor talking about the complexities of M. bovis at a Makur¯ı meeting of neighbouring farmers to Rangedale, the Landcorp M. bovis-infected farm east of Pahiatua.