Guy Trafford says although MPI are slow to accept it, containment of MPB is the future with a long-term eradication plan as was used with TB. That will change dairying

By Guy Trafford

There is consensus from every-one, except perhaps MPI, is that the mycoplasma bovis has bolted and probably had some time ago.

This whole episode has been hampered by things not working as well as they should have. Somehow the disease got in when it shouldn’t have been able.

NAIT was shown to be very deficient from farmers using it through to MPI administrating it.

The testing processes despite earlier assurances still appears not to be able to provide the accuracy required to be able to make decision that affect whole families lives and livelihoods.

And the decision-making processes from the powers that be appears slow and cumbersome.

Eradication appears out of reach now unless unrealistic draconian measures, probably far worse than the disease are used.

So containment is next to be rolled out.

It would have been nice to have thought that the decision makers, notably MPI have been developing a plan B in the background to roll in the event of this eventuality, however to date there has been no evidence of this; I hope I’m wrong.

Containing this disease to a point where over time it may get eradicated needs to be the priority. We have a good precedent of being able to implement systems to achieve this with the TB programme. Arguably TB has a number of issues which made controlling it far more difficult, mainly from it being able to be spread by vectors other than cattle and deer, i.e. cat, possums, ferrets, pigs, deer etc. This time there is only one species to worry about and largely (though sadly not solely) mainly in the South Island.

This should make controlling mycoplasma bovis sound simple.

The issue is, time is against this being able to be implemented rapidly when the maximum effect could be had. June ‘moving day’ is coming up at a rate of knots and the lack of confidence in the testing programme means farmers buy in to a scheme may be less that required to get the acceptance required. And in the meantime, MPI aren’t providing any leadership and yet they hold the reins. Given that they are currently still under threat from a group of kiwifruit farmers suing for their poor handling of the PSA -V incident, which is still creating issues for the kiwifruit industry they seem slow to learn.

With 38 farms confirmed to date, 299 under movement restriction and 1,700 in the wings you could understand if those farmers who are being required to slaughter their herds played for time until the future becomes a lot clearer and kept the cattle on their properties.

If the cattle are kept isolated the risk would appear minimal and buying in additional feed to get them through the winter would seem a cheaper and far more digestible outcome than seeing a herd destroyed.

If a containment policy is rolled out and is similar to the TB program it may bring a new paradigm to dairy farming, where there is a reversion to farmers retaining control of their animals through-out the year.

If any good can come out of this episode it may be some valuable lessons for the future and the implementation of a capable organisation better able to handle a future situation - which might be foot and mouth disease.

We welcome your help to improve our coverage of this issue. Any examples or experiences to relate? Any links to other news, data or research to shed more light on this? Any insight or views on what might happen next or what should happen next? Any errors to correct?

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17 Comments

70% non-compliance with NAIT and evidence of a black market (i.e., non-monetary, unrecorded transactions in the trade of cows for feed and other goods/service), concentrated in the South Island and reported on Newshub Nation this morning. Links not yet up.

Point is that this problem is so wide spread and has been developing since 2014 - how could it take 4 years for this issue to start being reported? Surely infected cattle have been showing the symptoms of the disease for years;

https://www.dairynz.co.nz/media/5788128/mycoplasma-bovis-what-to-look-ou...

Many questions to be answered by the farming community - ridiculous to be focusing your criticism at the regulator. Let's get real.
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NAIT really didn't work. I spent ages on the phone to wellington with not a lot of joy. When it's cold and wet or the truck is waiting and the tags won't read or are muddled it stretches nerves.

Yes, I recall a specific NAIT troubleshooting/blog site set up (I believe) by MPI as I followed it for a while when deciding whether or not to do beef stock on that small landholding of ours. But that was years ago when it was first introduced. I just assumed many of those problems must have been ironed out... but I think you're saying otherwise?

What do you think Andrew about the lag time to its detection and reporting (i.e., here since 2014 and only comes to light recently)?

No one was looking for it.

It took a vet to put together the group of odd symptoms and come up with a diagnosis. Maybe they had some overseas experience with it, or maybe the symptoms were so unusual they went searching outside the normal range of diseases.

OK, so NAIT works fine for large operators like saleyards and freezing works - the cattle are just scanned through and most of the problems like tags not reading have been ironed out.

Where it is hopeless is for small transactions - a farmer selling a couple of calves or trades between lifestylers on Trade me or similar. Trying to manually read a zillion digit number on a teeny tiny tag is actually really difficult even with a calf, let alone a full grown cattle beast. Only having one electronic tag and no visual tag to back up is a major flaw - I have heaps of cattle on my list that are long killed, purely because they've lost their tag, and once the tag is lost there's no possible of way of knowing the original I.D.

Add into that lots of farmers are still not particularly computer literate to record the transactions, and the fact there was almost no support for the whole system from farmers right from the start so motivation to comply is low, and I'm not at all surprised it hasn't worked as intended.

Has any country with it managed to eradicate it. I suspect we will learn to live with it.

It's interesting the govt response to this. I see a lot of similarities to the way EQC has handled the Christchurch response. Poorly prepared and a lot of crappy work done. And now when house-owners are complaining and showing flawed workmanship EQC are hiding behind the legislation  of the $100k cap when their work has pushed remedial work well beyond that. O'Connor, today, is standing behind his earlier comments, that farmers should foot 40% of the MPB bill despite what the legislation says., i.e. Farmers to be fully compensated for meeting MPI complience. 60% falls short of that and agreeing to any future plans without knowing what they are and led by MPI???? The stories of incompetence coming from affected farms from MPI and their'agents' is alarming.

Farmers to be fully compensated for meeting MPI complience [sic].

But it was reported that around 70% of the farms interacted with to date are non-compliant with their NAIT record-keeping.

Realistically Kate the way the system works I would be surprised if MPI weren't able to point to 100% being non-compliant.
Its been flawed from the start and makes farmers a very easy target for bureaucrats excuses.
Its taken ten months to get to this point and my bet is that when the disease was notified and someone put the cursor over the "which farms are connected button" the computer said no several times and they discovered that the program actually didn't work and since then they have had to do it all manually. Hence the massive time lag and misinformation/lack of information.
I'm not saying farmers don't deserve a good kicking, some more than others, but I really don't see the MPI response as being competent.

In my experience rearing calves, I have found getting dairy farmers to take responsibilty for nait has been difficult. Understandably so in some instances. Its an incredibly hard time of the year for them. So to organise tags, and record the shift is an easy thing to let slide. And slide it does. I have picked up large numbers of calves and nothing is tagged. Trying to get the nait thing done becomes a battle. The corporates are really bad. Some young thing thats feeding the calves doesnt give a rats. Other times when sourcing colostrum I have grabbed a couple of bobbies unexpectedly...the farmer isnt around and text messaging is the only means of sorting the deal. Tagging is not something high on his or her list. Looks like it should have been. So then I have ended up with several lots of calves from different farms, tags arriving months later. Hmm which tag to which calf then becomes the problem. Thankfully I have moved on. And with the likelihood of mbovis turning up in your calf rearing shed now it seems like a good thing to move on from.

Thanks Belle, interesting to get first hand insight into the issue.

Hi Kate, buying colostrum and antibiotic milk from dairy farms is a pretty big component of milk supply for many calf rearers. I was not big time but one year I collected over 40000 litres of colostrum. A good supply of colostrum or other whole milk is what makes calf rearing viable. Of late dairy farmers have invested in bigger vats to store their colostrum and its not as available as it was. However a lot still changes hands...farms....outbreaks of mbovis from this will be inevitable.
We also have calf auctions where the stock agents insist on splitting up calves and melding bigger and smaller calves from different herds into like for like pens. Often one could buy a pen of 10, and they could be from 10 different farmers. Tb cards with these calves...no. zilch. You have no idea where they came from unless you trawl your nait records.
Lets move onto AB. I am not sure but I believe most countries use one glove per insem. ie one glove per bum. Here I could use one glove for 60 cows. Hmm. Changing your glove may sound simple. But 30 to 40secs per cow insem ... normally...add in a minute to change glove...suddenly instead of around 40 mins at the farm its 2 hours. The whole premise of AB in this country will have to change. We dont have enough techs to cover this. Interesting times. Last year the insem companies buried their heads deep in the sand. I wonder what the board room at Lic looks like at the mo.

Yes, and then who is gonna hold these folks accountable;

https://ospri.co.nz/about-ospri/our-company/

What a mess. And my initial point still holds, MPI seems to me to be one of the least accountable agencies given according to the above;

TBfree New Zealand Ltd and NAIT Ltd are fully-owned subsidiaries of OSPRI New Zealand Ltd. OSPRI is overseen by a Board of Directors. It is also accountable to its shareholders (DairyNZ, Beef + Lamb New Zealand and Deer Industry New Zealand) and a range of industry, central and local government stakeholders. It also has responsibilities to the Minister for Primary Industries.

MPI contributes to the funding of the NAIT (30 per cent) and TBfree (40 per cent) programmes on behalf of the government. The remaining funding is provided through levies from beef, dairy and deer industries.

And the Board in charge of the organisation is;

https://www.ospri.co.nz/about-ospri/board-of-directors/board-members/

So two board members with practical farming experience and three with no direct practical experience. Perhaps the mix is wrong?