MPI Director General apologises to farmers for the way the Ministry handled M. bovis eradication

The Director General of the Ministry for Primary Industries has apologised to farmers for the way MPI has handled the programme to eradicate Mycoplasma Bovis.

Two reviews were released today. Farmers have been through a lot of pain around this process and today, they received a big "sorry" from Ray Smith, the Director General of MPI. 

When Newshub investigated this problem two months ago, Newshub's Investigations reporter Michael Morrah found farmers at "breaking point" because of mistakes and delays in following up on high-risk animals.

In one case, it took 16 months before MPI contacted a farmer. 

Two scientists have now come up with 43 recommendations for improving the eradication process, including having greater farmer involvement.

Two separate reviews into the way MPI has tracked the debilitating and contagious cattle disease, Mycoplasma Bovis, both point to serious deficiencies. 

"I think we let farmers down in the local communities at a point in the year that was very important to them. And to those farmers, I would like to say I'm very, very sorry on behalf of all of us here at MPI," said Ray Smith.

1400 cases, dating back seven months, had not been followed up. 

One report says MPI's response team were experiencing the massive backlog due to: 

  • A silo-type structure which discouraged communication
  • Key data not being shared
  • Staff being hastily recruited and sometimes lacking skills 
  • Worryingly, "the failure to lock down potentially infected properties may have contributed to disease spread"

"The Dairy NZ commissioned review really arrived at 3 main themes," Dr Tim Mackle, the Chief Executive of Dairy NZ, told Newshub.

"The first is having the right people in the right roles. The second one is having the right data systems."

MPI's response team experienced a massive backlog.
MPI's response team experienced a massive backlog. Photo credit: Newshub

In May, Newshub found widespread concern about poor tracing. 

Dairy farmer Duncan Barr, who sent MPI detailed information about where infected animals had been sent from his farm, said "nothing" had happened and no traces were followed up on for "four months".

"I think we probably under-estimated the scale and complexity of this programme. This is New Zealand's biggest biosecurity response," says Smith.

One review found MPI employed a vet with no prior experience or qualifications in epidemiology to the role of Disease Management.

Experts believe this contributed to the backlog. 

"Look, we've made some personal changes to reflect the needs of the programme," Smith said after being asked whether any managers had lost their jobs.

So far, more than $234 million has been spent on eradication and in compensation payouts. 

And despite the failures, scientists believe it hasn't affected the chances of getting rid of the disease.

One of the reports recommend that both farmers and vets become part of regional control teams to improve communication and disease management. 

"We will never achieve perfection [but] he's still confident we can achieve eradication," says Biosecurity Minister, Damien O'Connor.