Mycoplasma bovis could cost New Zealand $1 billion

Gypsy day marks the official start of the dairying calendar, with cattle moved and trucked all around the country.

This year, it's happening in the midst of a biosecurity disaster - and Chris Lewis from Federated Farmers says farmers are nervous about Mycoplasma bovis.

"That's why extra precautions are being taken this year to prevent extra spread of the disease," he said.

The Government briefly considered cancelling the day, admitting some animals exposed to the disease could be moved around.

"The offset of that is having thousands and thousands of animals who would be starving because they haven't been able to get onto new property," says Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor.

On Monday, the Government will make the final decision about whether to eradicate or contain Mycoplasma bovis.

Eradication could take 10 years, and cost around $500 million - and containment is equally pricey. Tie in the impact to the economy, and we're potentially facing a $1 billion hit.

Either way, more cows have to be culled.

"There are still hard calls to be made whatever direction we head in," says Mr O'Connor.

Live tests on the animals aren't conclusive, so cow carcasses are also being tested once they're culled.

The Minister says "quite a percentage" of cows culled were healthy.

"Unfortunately there have been a lot of cows culled that have been healthy cows identified as part of a herd that's infected. That's the horrible reality."

Mycoplasma bovis does not infect humans and it's not a food safety risk.

It spreads fast within herds through cow-to-cow contact, and if the bacteria sheds from the cow it can survive in optimum conditions for 50 days. Disinfection kills it.

The disease came into the country through imported cattle semen, second-hand equipment or vet medicine.

"The people who imported this disease definitely owe taxpayers and farmers an apology, no doubt about that," says Mr Lewis.

"Someone's got to be held accountable."

On Monday, we'll find out who will pick up the tab - but it's not going to be cheap.


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