'Going hard and early' pays off in fight against Mycoplasma bovis - Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern

More than 150,000 cattle have been culled so far.
More than 150,000 cattle have been culled so far. Photo credit: Getty

Two years into the fight to eradicate Mycoplasma bovis (M. bovis) the country's approach of "going hard and early" is paying off, the Prime Minister said on Tuesday.

More than 150,000 cattle have been killed in an attempt to rid the country of the disease, with the sector facing a huge impact as a result.

"Two years ago the Government, DairyNZ and Beef + Lamb New Zealand and industry partners made a bold decision to go hard and commit to a 10-year, $880 million programme to eradicate M. bovis to protect our most important sector and the economy," Agriculture and Biosecurity Minister Damien O'Connor said on Tuesday.

"Recent events have shown what an important moment this decision was for our economy. Had we thrown up our hands and said 'it's too hard' and left this disease to run rampant, I'm not sure our dairy and beef sectors would have been able to weather the economic storm of COVID-19 and the challenges of drought conditions as well as they have."

O'Connor said 232 properties had been cleared of the disease, while 17 were currently considered "active".

"One key measure of success, the Estimated Dissemination Rate (EDR), shows strongly that we have M. bovis firmly in our sights. If the EDR is greater than one, then the disease is growing. If it's below one, we're shrinking the disease. 

"The EDR is now at 0.4, which is down from over two at the start of the outbreak, so we are looking harder to find fewer infected animals. This tells us that M. bovis is not endemic in our national herd."

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told reporters on Tuesday the benefits in going on the offensive early against the disease were obvious.

"Our beef and dairy sectors are the backbone of our economy," said Ardern. "COVID has demonstrated that once again."

"While the rest of the country was in lockdown, agricultural production continued  earning us much-needed export receipts. And just like with COVID, going hard and early to beat M. bovis has paid dividends for us. In both cases the economic benefits of our strong biosecurity and health responses are obvious and have only enhanced our international brand as a producer of high-quality safe food."

Ardern said the success so far placed the country among the world's first who have ever attempted to eradicate the disease.

"And while there's a journey left to travel I'm really proud of the work that's been done by MPI [Ministry for Primary Industries], the industry, farmers, but also the minister [O'Connor]."

O'Connor said the priority over the coming 12-18 months continued to be to find and eliminate the disease.