Keith Woodford explains why European semen is the likely source of the disease, and how this helps explain the rapid spread

Europe: the likely source of our mycoplasma bovis strain

By Keith Woodford*

It is now increasingly evident that European-sourced semen, imported legally but containing live Mycoplasma bovis that survived the antibiotic cocktail, is the likely source of the organism in New Zealand dairy.

The evidence suggests it struck first in Southland, but there is a likelihood is that the same semen has struck on other farms, and then spread from there via progeny.

It is also likely that Mycoplasma bovis arrived in New Zealand via this semen by late 2014 or even earlier.  This is an important issue because so far MPI has only focused on events since the end of 2015.

If the above statements about semen and time of entry are correct, then there are profound implications for the eradication program. In effect, we could be fighting six or more fires from the different strikes and possibly more that have yet to be identified.

The above explanation is also the likely reason why the spread of the infection has been much faster than MPI and its advisers expected. The stealth bomber dropped its load in multiple places.

The reason that I believe semen is now the most likely source of the disease is that no other single source can explain the range of infected properties.  I have been puzzled for many weeks by MPI’s somewhat soothing claims about farm linkage, which did not fit with the evidence famers were telling me.

What I found was that three infected Canterbury farms that lacked obvious live animal links to either the Van Leeuwens or Zeestratens, plus the Van Leeuwens and the Zeestratens themselves, were all using the same source of Northern European semen. This does not constitute proof, but it does provide a pointer.

The official position of MPI to date has been that there has been only one outbreak. Initially, MPI said that it started in South Canterbury and that it was confident the outbreak started in 2017. I have seen official correspondence from MPI stating that MPI was only interested in animal movements for 2017. Eventually they had to concede that it arrived in Southland well prior to this, most likely by their current calculations at the end of 2015 or early 2016.

MPI has not publicly stated how it thinks the organism entered New Zealand, but the inference is apparent from other actions. Quite clearly, MPI has recently been of the perspective that it was likely to have been through infected veterinary drugs, perhaps imported illegally. That source is still a possibility, but there are increasing challenges to that likelihood, including that it does not explain the rapid spread.

MPI’s focus on veterinary drugs was highlighted by its warranted raids on three properties, including a veterinary clinic based on Waiheke Island. Also, within the MPI Pathways Report as to how Mycoplasma bovis might have got to New Zealand, all reference to veterinary drugs, including even the inclusion of the category, was redacted prior to release of the report. For those who could identify the missing category, that redaction highlighted where MPI’s detective focus lay.

A key piece of evidence as to how the disease might have got to New Zealand is the genetic tracing.

So far, the New Zealand variant of Mycoplasma bovis is unique within the international Mycoplasma bovis database. However, it is only one locus (mutation) away from an apparently old European variant, with this variant having also been identified, but less common, in the United States.

Mycoplasma bovis genetic variant map; NZ variant dark green with red outer circle. Source MPI Paper 2017/1

The synthesis of information from within the genetic map suggests that it probably came from one specific source in Europe.  That does not preclude the possibility that variants of Mycoplasma bovis have been here for a long time. But it does indicate that all of the limited samples tested so far have likely come from one European source. Also note that I said this comes from the limited samples tested for genetic variation. There are lots of uncertainties.

If I am correct, and semen is the source, then no farmer is to blame for the arrival of the disease. Also, the likelihood is that no importer of semen has broken the law. Rather, the laws around importation of frozen semen and also embryos were not strict enough. 

The law did not require donor bulls to be tested. All that was required was that no Mycoplasma bovis had been found. But if you don’t look, then you can truthfully say you have no evidence of it being present.

Alternatively, if the infection has come through imported veterinary drugs, then things get somewhat murkier. But even then, unless the drugs were imported illegally, or used for an illegal purpose, then the farmers concerned are not to blame. Once again, the rules have been that you cannot import drugs known to come from an infected source, but there was no requirement to test.

This situation of not having to test arises from the fact that Mycoplasma bovis has always been regarded internationally as a minor disease. Also, whereas Mycoplasma bovis can hide from antibiotics when it is inside the animal – what is called ‘in vivo’ – it is more susceptible to the antibiotic drugs when present within semen or drugs. So, the usual response has been to treat the semen with antibiotics and then hope.

It is already known that Mycoplasma bovis genetic material has been found in imported frozen semen used by infected properties. This is stated in MPI’s Pathway Report. However, so far it has not been possible to culture this in the test tube, suggesting it has all been killed by the antibiotics. But it would only have taken one faulty batch for it to have slipped through.

Back in 2017, it was possible for MPI to say that there were no documented cases of Mycoplasma bovis being transmitted anywhere in the world through frozen semen. However, that is no longer the case, with a documented transfer in Finland reported in a paper within the Journal of Veterinary Microbiology. This paper has been circulated within some New Zealand veterinary and agricultural science groups, but it has not been acknowledged by MPI.

So far, New Zealand appears to be the only dairy-producing country to have raised the status of Mycoplasma bovis to that of a major disease. We may have been right to do this, but to date the rest of the world has not followed.  Rather, in all these other countries farmers manage the disease themselves. There have been some nasty outbreaks, but nearly all farmers have it under control as just a minor nuisance with appropriate management.

With hindsight, it is obvious that there was a contradiction between on one hand our New Zealand attitude that Mycoplasma bovis is important and on the other hand the biosecurity processes that we had in place. Our biosecurity arrangements were those of a country, like elsewhere in the world, who thought that the disease was just a nuisance that could be lived with.

There still remain other possibilities as to how Mycoplasma bovis got to New Zealand. For example, live animals are an obvious risk but there have been no animals imported since 2013. Prior to that there were imports from Australia, but the current evidence is that the New Zealand variant of the disease did not come from Australia – it has the wrong genetics for an obvious Australian source.

There is also the prospect that it came in via embryos. Over the last ten years there have been more than 5000 embryos imported to New Zealand. Most of these embryos probably went to the companies that sell semen. They would have used these embryos to produce new genetic material for their bull mating teams. There has been very little discussion about this as a potential source, including as a mechanism for Mycoplasma bovis getting into the semen.

Trying to see through the murk of MPI to get solid information is extremely difficult. Those of us who have a science background have found it impossible to date to get access to people with whom we can have an intelligent science-based conversation. The presentations to industry have been very superficial.

MPI points out repeatedly that it is advised by a Technical Advisory Group (TAG). MPI has recently provided the names of the 11 people in the group. Eight of them live overseas. I have tried to contact the NZ-based chair of the group but this person is also currently overseas on other business.

There are only two reports from the TAG that I can find. One was from a meeting in November 2017 and the latter was the report from a telephone hook-up in February 2018.  It seems that this group is very much part time and is called in sporadically. And they are themselves dependent on information provided by MPI. In their first report, they were politely but firmly critical of the quality of the information they were receiving.

It is clear that MPI does indeed have some specialist expertise within its team.  For example, the anonymous and redacted MPI Pathways Report was clearly written by someone who has lots of relevant expertise in terms of disease pathways. But that person is also operating from limited data.

MPI has currently advised the media that the reason it thinks Mycoplasma bovis has only been here for a maximum of two years is because of the genetic tracing and genetic time-clock. I have to question that judgement and I would love to hear the precise words of the scientist who supposedly made that call.  I know a little about genetic time-clocks and I suspect that there would have been all sorts of caveats that the scientist placed on that.

The key element of a genetic time-clock is the rate of mutations. We know that Mycoplasma bovis has great ability to evolve, but there is also evidence that this rate varies considerably in different environments.

One of the messages from the suspected botulism outbreak some five years ago was that scientific information, once transferred through multiple levels of non-scientist management, in that case within Fonterra, gets highly distorted. We need to be confident the same thing is not happening here.  The recent report on methamphetamine contamination here in New Zealand also illustrates what happens when non-scientists make an ‘inexplicable leap of logic’ (to quote Chief Government scientist Sir Peter Gluckman).

The question has to be asked as to why MPI is being so precious with the information they have at hand?

One suggestion I am getting is that MPI at senior levels has a culture of telling farmers no more than what is necessary, and MPI considers itself the arbiter of what farmers need to know. Or it could be, that with no science-trained biosecurity experts in their ten-person leadership team, and similarly at the next level of program management, that messages are getting muddled and omitted as they work their way through the chain. The third reason is that MPI lacks nimbleness. Like many bureaucracies, as the evidence changes, the non-scientist leaders struggle to stop defending a position and move quickly to solid ground.

It may also be that MPI is trying to protect its ability to take a court case against illegal actions. That is the only conclusion that can explain the ridiculous redaction of even mentioning ‘veterinary drugs’ as a potential category.

The problem for farm businesses – and there are well over 10,000 of these that are in risk management mode – is that it is impossible to put together sound plans without transparency of information.

In minimising risk, farmers have to make judgements as to where the greatest risks lie and act accordingly. Getting these assessments right is going to be crucial to the potential overall success of any national eradication program. Farmers and Government are in this together; it is not just Government.

In the current situation, there is a need for all of the semen companies to come forward and explain the measures that they are now taking for the coming season. Indeed, right now there are farmers using semen for next year’s autumn calving.

We need to know for each of those semen companies as to the measures they now have in place to minimise risk from their semen. This is not just for imported frozen semen, but also for fresh local semen where there are historical links back to imported embryos or semen, or where the bulls have been in contact with other bulls that have such a background. In fact, with the extent of the current outbreak, it needs to be for all of their bulls.

Although the Pathways Report from November 2017 suggests possible measures that can reduce the risks from semen, these are not yet legal requirements. So, all semen companies need to front up and tell us precisely what they are doing. I know that some companies have already changed their practices, but I do not know for all companies. The notion of ‘trust us’ is not good enough.

My own judgement right now is that the greatest risk to dairy farmers is from what are known as ‘service bulls’ which are used as follow up after two or three cycles of artificial insemination. Particularly risky is any bull that contains European-sourced genetics or which has been in contact in any way with such an animal. For graziers who run dairy support blocks, the greatest risk is that the calves coming onto their property will be infected.  Where female calves from different farms are run together by these graziers (as is common, particularly in the North Island), then there is a risk of subsequently transferring the organism back to all of the home farms.


*Keith Woodford was Professor of Farm Management and Agribusiness at Lincoln University for 15 years through to 2015. He is now Principal Consultant at AgriFood Systems Ltd.   His articles are archived at http://keithwoodford.wordpress.com. You can contact him directly here.

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48 Comments

Yet in spite of certain people claiming MPB has nothing to do with Van Leeuwens, every single case has been linked back to those farms, and there are zero cases linked to 2014.
Most likely the semen imported was fresh not frozen as claimed, [ potentially defamatory fragment removed. Ed.]

So calling real estate agents parasites and much worse, isn't defamatory, but suggesting the rich use their influence to manipulate the media, is defamatory? Defamatory to whom? I wonder.

So what part of this do you not understand skudiv: MPI has said it believed the Zeestraten’s farm in Southland was the first New Zealand farm which had the disease – as early as December, 2015.
https://www.radionz.co.nz/national/programmes/checkpoint/audio/201864655...

Skudiv
You are many months out of date.
Your statement about all cases linking back to the Van Leeuwens is totally wrong. Some cases have links to them but many others do not.
As for the imported semen being fresh rather than frozen, we in NZ would seem to be the only country in the world that uses fresh semen, and it is only feasible for us to use it that way through a sophisticated logistics system that gets the semen around the country very quickly.Fresh semen has too short a life to be imported.
Demonstrably false statements such as what you are perpetrating do not help us to move forward.
Keith W

It's only your [ unnecessary slur removed. Ed] theory that not all cases are linked back to the Van Leeuwen group. All MPI statements claim otherwise. The logistics for moving fresh semen are no more difficult than for moving fresh bread, in fact the small relative size, makes it much simpler.
NZ is hardly the only country to use fresh semen, though the LIC patented formula which keeps the semen fresh for up to 4x as long is a big advantage. The logistics are hardly an issue at all, especially when compared to moving fresh chicken around the country. What's the bet, the LIC formula doesn't use anti microbials, (why would it).
They imported the fresh, because it is far simpler to smuggle into the country, you can bring it in your carry on luggage, no need for cryogenics. They love those dutch genetics, and flouted the law.
I remember how the varroa mite came to NZ in very similar circumstances.
Eventually the truth will out.

Skudiv
You are perpetrating falsehoods and this does not contribute to a useful debate. MPI's initial beliefs that all infections trace back to Van Leeuwens has been shown to be incorrect and MPI has acknowledged that their current evidence for Mycoplasma bovis in Southland predates the evidence they have relating to South Canterbury.
Unfortunately your knowledge of how the semen business works is not based on the realities. It has always been legal to bring in Dutch genetics and the notion of smuggling it in fresh makes no sense at all.
There are enough challenges in determining how and when and by whom Mycoplasma bovis got here, without us being distracted by demonstrably false red herrings. Until all that evidence is available, it would be wise to desist from assuming false or unethical motives.
KeithW

MPI is still very much saying all cases are linked to Van Leeuwen, and they have no evidence at all to suggest otherwise. They have all the experts working on it, and no reason to lie or cover anything up.

MPI can be summed up as follows: “I know that you believe you understand what you think I said, but I'm not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.” Robert McCloskey

Keith - now I am really confused. You say ol Skudiv is many months out of date but I have seen a report dated 22/05/18 from RNZ that states as its header "All Mycoplasma Bovis cases traced back to single farm"

https://www.radionz.co.nz/national/programmes/checkpoint/audio/201864602...

As MPI officials said yesterday, the strain now being detected here seems to have come from Europe (not Australia) and the outbreak’s point of origin has been traced to the farm of Alfons Zeestraten near Winton, Southland. (Dated May 24th)

http://werewolf.co.nz/2018/05/gordon-campbell-on-the-m-bovis-outbreak/

(Strangely the two reports listed show different Dutch farms as the origin.)

Smalltown.
You are entitled to be confused, and you cannot always believe what you read in the media.
For a long time MPI believed the Van Leeuwens were the original source and referred to them as the 'index' farm'.
Some of us realised very early on that the Van Leeuwens had to get it from somewhere and that it was unlikely they were the only 'original farm' and possibly not even one of the original farms. As a consequence, we argued for a focus on back traces as well as forward traces but to no avail - at that time MPI were not interested in gong back before the start of 2017.
It was only subsequent to the identification of the Zeestraten outbreak that MPI recognised that they had got it wrong. But it took them a long time to clarify that the so-called index farm was now the farm of Alfons and Gea Zeestraten (they did not like having to admit they were wrong) and that the evidence of the outbreak goes back at least to the start of 2016.
Things got even more confusing when Minister Damien O'Connor referred to the 'index farm' in May and a journalist then thought he was referring to the Van Leeuwens and inserted their name. I could add a lot more of explanation but all that would really demonstrate is that the communications have been a real dogs breakfast for which the blame has to be shared between both MPI and the media. But MPI has to take much of the blame because there has been a real lack of transparency and so the lay media who have no science training have indeed then got further confused. I could write many pages on the MPI and media stuff ups.

In the article I have posted here I took great care with the words that I chose to try and minimise incorrect messages. What I write does not rely on what others have written in the media. Rather, I use published science together with primary sources of people who are directly involved. That includes, farmers, vets, industry people and at times officials who choose to contact me. I know many of these people from my prior professional work. I have also had a long personal discussion with the Minister, but of course I do not speak for him. I then brought to the analysis my own professional background which has included observing how farmers overseas deal with the disease.

To cut to the chase: the current evidence is that the earliest outbreak was at the Zeestratens in Southland and MPI currently have that timed back to the end of 2015 or early 2016. MPI has not searched back prior to that which I regard as a major flaw.

No-one actually knows whether the Zeestraten outbreak was indeed the first outbreak, but that is MPI's current assumption.

At this stage I have no reason to modify anything that I wrote in the above post. But if and as the evidence changes, and any new information comes to light, then I will indeed change my position. My maxim is that I go where the evidence takes me.

As it stands, we can only talk in terms of likelihoods and probabilities. Until and unless that situation changes then it is not appropriate to lay blame. If it is proven that the organism came through semen then it is important to note that farmers did not import the semen; rather it was a specialist semen company that did this. And the likelihood is that everything the semen importer did was within the biosecurity regulations - currently there is zero evidence to the contrary. It was the regulations that were inadequate. But remember, at this stage nothing is sure.
I expect to write more about Mycoplasma bovis in the future, including challenges with the testing procedures and the uncertainties that creates.
Keith W

Smalltown have you actually read/heard that RNZ link you posted?? If you had read it you would have read....'until such time as we found the Zeestraten's, which indicates, or the genetic information we have indicates that the point of introduction on their farm was earlier or predates the van Leeuwen's."

"What I found was that three infected Canterbury farms that lacked obvious live animal links to either the Van Leeuwens or Zeestratens .."

and you trust that NAIT rules were aggressively 100% followed by the 3 cant farms and the other 2 parties? That would seemingly make them unique in rural NZ especially where calf trading might have been involved.

What Keith is pointing to in this article is a toxic combination of politicised top management. elitism plus groupthink. This explains the distortions of judgement - the 'send reinforcements, we are going to advance' becoming 'send three-and-fourpence, we are going to a dance' - communications error, and the spin-influenced pronouncements at the top level. Plus a hefty dose of 'We Know Best' - the elitist aspect. Add
the groupthink of 'find us a suspect, we'll find 'em the crime' which from the article appears to have been an early-onset infection of the MPI Hive Mind.
These are serious allegations, because they show Gubmint departments to be spin-purveying mouthpieces of distorted or ignored base data. For politicians we always say - 'How do we know they are lying? Their lips move....'. Is it too much to hope for that a spin-eradication program could not be run within MPI?

As for the science about the likely source, ya cannae argue with genetics, as many a crim has discovered. If the genetics tend to rule out six of the seven pathways Keith outlined in an earlier article, then that's that.

And finally, and a sad observation of the state on Interest common tating, adding uninformed and rancorous hearsay to what is a serious risk in an industry which is our major export earner, simply says more about the common tater than about the matter at hand.

Smalltown,
Yes, I do think the NAIT records for these properties are reliable, and no, that does not make then unique in NZ. And on most farms where NAIT records have not been 100% the farmers have been able to fill in the details from their own records. However, there has also been significant non compliance by some farmers, particularly in the case of some calf rearers and graziers. A lot of the non compliancee relates to lifestylers rather than professional farmers.
KeithW

KW
So this report is wrong then. (57% compliance as stated by MPI's Manager for Compliance Investigation, Gary Orr.) I have seen reports as low as 30% and lower.
https://www.nzherald.co.nz/the-country/news/article.cfm?c_id=16&objectid...

"O’Connor has said NAIT compliance in some areas has been as low as 30 percent, and he’s berated farmers for their “lax” attitude. That’s been paired with lax enforcement..."
https://www.newsroom.co.nz/2018/05/15/109635/why-nait-failed-and-whats-b...

It seems all of rural NZ is now trying to show the NAIT cock up as not being relevant to the MPB outbreak.

As stated before, you could rightfully see 99.99% as non complianant, many through mistakes eminating fron NAIT themselves. That doesn't mean you can't be 100% sure of accurately tracking animals in and out of herds.
Due to the poor nature of the setup and its lack of accuracy it has been treated as bottom of the to do list item. It maybe MPIs first port of call but its certainly not herd owners, or PICAs as NAIT refers to them.

Smalltown,
57% compliance does not mean that only 57% of farmers were filling in the NAIT records. It means that only 57% were getting it 100% right. There is a lot of politics around how the compliance levels are being communicated.
But yes, there are major concerns about small scale calf-rearers in particular who are not NAIT compliant, and it gets even more tricky if cash sales are involved because then there are no records at all.
KeithW

Orr's actual words in the web site were as follows:

"really disappointing" that only 57% of farmers have been recording movements. "

To me that reads that at least 43% were doing nothing re movements.

Smalltown,
I think history may show that was a loose statement by Mr Orr when he was responding orally to the same assertion by Jamie Mckay. MPI have said in response to an OIO request that they have not surveyed the level of NAIT compliance.
There is no doubt that weaknesses in NAIT compliance and also weaknesses in the NAIT system itself have complicated and perhaps thereby delayed the tracing, and that will become even more apparent if the tracing goes back to calves born in 2014 and 2015. But it is a huge jump to think that non compliance has actually facilitated the currently identified spread of the disease. The disease had spread long before the tracing started.What we still have to find out is how far it had spread.
Keith W

First reference I've seen to the issues regards professional/full time farmers trading with part-time/hobby farmers (LSB owners). I suspected the earlier reference in the media to 'cash for cows' would likely have referred to this kind of trading.

It was the townnies on LSB wot done it.

Who knew?

Spin..

Well done Keith, we all owe you a beer for the huge amount of articulate work youve put into this, and for the simple fact that youve kept us up to speed about M Bovis far better than MPI have.

Hi Keith, If your suspicions are any where near the mark, and they have a ring of being correct, then MPI might end up with another group action such as the Kiwi fruit industry with PSA. It seems as well as reviewing NAIT a complete review of all the protocols around what is allowed into NZ is way overdue.

Which is why, I suspect, that MPI are heavily redacting documents with respect to their current investigations.

Thing is, if the importation is found not to be a regulatory failure, but rather someone/some entity has broken the law, then of course all related scientific investigations in coming to that conclusion would need to be protected from the public (so as not to prejudice the case) in the event that charges are laid.

The law did not require donor bulls to be tested. All that was required was that no Mycoplasma bovis had been found. But if you don’t look, then you can truthfully say you have no evidence of it being present.

Are you refering to a declaration? If so who is responsible for signing?

They take the rap surely.

positivelywallstreet,
It is well understood internationally (all over the world) within Biosecurity organisations that declarations that no animals are known to be Mycoplasma positive mean exactly what they say.. No-one within biosecurity systems would misinterpret this as meaning that the animals have actually been tested and are known to be free. The rest of the world has not been concerned to any great extent about Mycoplasma bovis transmission, because they already have it, and hence testing to confirm negative status was not considered necessary. There are many other diseases much higher up the list of concern. It is only New Zealand (at this stage) that has elevated Mycoplasma bovis to be a matter of concern.
KeithW

This was exactly the reason Keith MPI gave to Southland farmers on how the velvet leaf incursion happened too. It boils down to the declarations are meaningless - from a farmers perspective anyway.
Keep up the good work you are writing on m bovis.

Question - with NZs record at breeding diary cows, why is it necessary, or why are farmers looking at foreign semen?

Murray86,
In NZ our LIC (Livestock Improvement System) breeding system and the RAS ( ranking of active sires) system have been designed on the 'one size fits all' concept aimed at a cow that will prosper under a spring calving, low input and relatively low production system milking twice per day. Farmers with other systems tend to be of the view that other cows with other characteristics are needed for other production systems and these genetics inevitably come from overseas where they breed cows that will prosper under those systems.
Note - I am not entering the debate here as to which cows are best; I am simply telling you why it happens. But the saying that 'their are horses for courses' does also apply in the bovine world.
KeithW

The easiest and most obvious reply is to point to the All Blacks, they are the best but both individually and as a group they always look elsewhere to improve. And NZ dairy farmers are not even necessarily the best, even if some may be All Blacks.

Hi Murray, Keith has given a very good answer but I would add that both of the main semen companies have a restricted number of bulls available. Obviously they are profit driven and cant rear thousands of bulls. This unfortunately has pushed the breeding base rather narrow. The problem of inbreeding has become large. By importing semen there is much less likelihood of this inbreeding. Which has in the past resulted in some unfortunate things appearing in replacements. Lic had a line a while back which resulted in heifers having no milking ability. They were very hairy, short in stature and rather beefy. They also had a tendency to leap into water troghs as their system overheated. Hmmm genetics.
Also the main 2 companies tend to deal only in friesian kiwicross and jersey. Other milking breeds such as ayrshire, the milking shorthorn or swiss brown etc are not catered for. This leaves a gaping hole for imported semen to fill.

Thanks guys, makes it very clear.

Keith, pointing to imported european semen I find particularly interesting. Once before I described a young bull I had that slowly became impossibly lame from arthritis in all limbs. It was bred from imported semen back a generation. This was pedigree beef stock. Whatever ailed this poor guy I will never know. It was an atrocious thing. I got the butcher in to kill him for house meat and cat tucker. After looking at his cemented swollen joints it became all cat tucker. Seeing I only have one cat it has taken about 3 years and I still have a bit of him in the freezer I think. Anyways a vet never saw him.
So a couple of points from this experience. On the farm, animals get crook and die regularly without a vet diagnosis. And who is to say mbovis has not entered the country before in semen. Lots of the stuff enters the country for the beef industry. It may have been here before and not got a foothold.
Cheers for all the work you have done on this Keith. Keep it coming.

Keith, is there any chance M. Bovis can be deactivated during freeze/thawing and/or antibiotic treatment of semen resulting in false positive test results?

Calaverite,
Yes, this can happen in both of those ways. The genetic material can still be found by PCR test ,and this has occurred, but that is not sufficient to say that the Mycoplasma bovis was actually still alive. On the samples they have tested they have been unable to get it to reproduce in the test tube, but most organisms are happier in their natural environment, (in this case in the cattle) than the test tube. But the new evidence from Finland is of a situation where Mycoplasma did survive freezing and antibiotic treatment, and where cows were then infected.
Keith W

Keith, keep up the great work!

Keith. I have an uninformed townie question. Would it be possible to genetically test some of the older infected animals on the Zeestraten farm to compare with the genetic profile of the reported/recorded siring bull? That could hopefully disprove some of the wilder theories in this comment thread.
Jacinda Ardern has been reported as saying last week.
The M. bovis cattle disease entered New Zealand through someone breaching biosecurity rules.
She would not give details of the incursion because of an ongoing investigation, but told RNZ there were some theories on how it got into the country.
"I'm not going to prejudice an investigation," she said.
"There's no question this has come into New Zealand by someone breaching some of our rules and regulations.
Suggests she has had a high-level briefing from MPI by officials that were hopefully not just speculating but had some pretty solid evidence to back up what they were telling the PM.
If Legally importing Frozen Semen through the correct logistics and MPI channels. I don't think there is any way you could breach the MPI regulations.

WestieAJ
Yes, Jacinda's comment would seem to lean towards illegal importation of veterinary drugs rather than semen.
I remain open to that possibility.
However, I would have expected those drugs (with two possible drugs coming to mind, with one being illegal, and the other only allowed to be administered by a vet under specific situations) to be synthetically produced rather than from biological material. And there lies one of the challenges to that theory.
Unfortunately or fortunately, depending on your perspective, all of the Zeestraten animals are now dead (slaughtered).
MPI will have lists of all purchasers of semen from particular companies and also of drugs from particular companies. Those lists will be helping them prioritise which herds they trace. The problem with any illegal importations is that the purchasers of the drugs may not be recorded.
No easy answers!
KeithW

All pure speculation but perhaps another possibility (in light of Ardern's comment) is that the drugs allegedly imported (possibly illegally) might not have been the source of the infection, but might have been drugs to specifically treat M.bovis (a disease that it would follow, we did not have specific drug treatments for?) - implying that whomever might have arranged for their importation did so knowing/suspecting that they had an infected herd?

Another possible reason why MPI are heavily redacting internal reports. All very frustrating for everyone, but necessary in the interests of natural justice.

I think this would probably be used and is available in NZ:

Bayer's Baytril 10% injection - contains Enrofloxacin - is active against a wide range of Gram+ve and Gram-ve bacteria and Mycoplasma spp. Approved by the US FDA for that purpose.

https://www.drovers.com/article/fda-approves-bayers-baytril-100-mycoplas...

Kate, I think it is highly unlikely that anyone secretly identified the disease and then imported drugs to try and treat it. Much simpler just to cull the affected animals like everyone else does in the rest of the world. With a few exceptions, neither farmers nor vets were well informed about identifying this disease, which is a real tricky little devil to identify.
KeithW

Hi Keith,
could it be that M Bovis has been here for many decades, considering it is an old European variant.
Also I have heard that it can survive in effluent ponds from an Australian that has had it in the past.
Thanks

Cync,
Yes, this is a reasonable hypothesis that is worthy of consideration. There is actually some evidence that it may have been here for at least ten years - so far I have not discussed that in any post. MPI is of the view that we would see more diversity in the organisms (which are primed for evolution) if they had been here for a long time. But it does not pay to discount things just because they seem unlikely. The reality is that one way or another something presumed unlikely has actually happened!
I may write a post at some time looking at the possibility it has been here all along.
Keith W

https://www.radionz.co.nz/audio/player?audio_id=2018648796
MPI will get it under control, they know what they're doing.
Yeah right.
I think what struck me most about this was she only realised last month. That's because to my mind MPI have been so backward in putting forward information even someone with an honours degree could not join the relevant documents.

Redcows - yes weve been kept in the dark about whats actually happened around the country and I guess with the compensation issues a heap of farmers are now hiding things in order to not crash their property values and cashflow.

Clearly M Bovis is here to stay, there will be massive changes to the way we all farm as a result..........

MPI also hasnt audited the animal health status of the known M Bovis farms (e.g. how many cows with mastitis, how many crook calves etc) which I wouldve thought would be a key priority for them to do so they could pass this info onto us so we can see what the actual "damage" is from M Bovis on these farms and therefore give us the opportunity to determine the direction we take with our own future farm production systems rather than be totally directed by the powers to be such as Dairy NZ.

Grumpy, I don't know if you are in Southland or not, but if not, the there have been vet run roadshows for farmers. MPI were shown to be a) grossly understaffed for such and incident and b) totally ignorant of farming systems. BUT things are looking up now with this announcement: https://www.ruralnewsgroup.co.nz/dairy-news/dairy-general-news/now-we-ll...

Yeap Im feeling really positive after reading that. I wonder how we would be looking if it was foot and mouth.......

Keith, I'm hearing m bovis has been found in farmed white tail deer. Any comment on that?