Mycoplasma bovis: Traumatised farmers who had stock slaughtered weren't included in solution - study

The Government's response during the Mycoplasma bovis outbreak was "traumatic" for farmers, many of whom weren't included in the solution to combat the disease, a new study has found.

Researchers at the University of Otago spoke to those whose stock was slaughtered in 2018. Almost 200,000 animals were culled in a bid to eliminate the cattle disease.

One dairy farmer told the study of how a slaughter team arrived on their farm to begin killing cows - while he was still in the milking shed.

"So, this truck arrives, from this pet food outfit… this guy pulls up and just shoots 10 of them, in the yard," the farmer said.

"I just said to the guy, 'You can't do this. This is just heartless.'" 

The researchers found farmers' local knowledge was largely ignored in favour of "inefficient bureaucratic processes".

Study leader Fiona Doolan-Noble says officials should have turned to international studies to understand how to deal with the disease.

"I don't think anyone went in with the intent of causing emotional trauma. However, we know from studies from the UK… and also from Australia… what not to do in these cases," Dr Doolan-Noble told The AM Show on Tuesday.

"It is somewhat unfortunate that they didn't look at this information before they implemented their response. There definitely was an issue with the communication but it did improve over time."

The study showed farmers reported feeling "isolated and powerless" over the Government's response to the outbreak. Dr Doolan-Noble said farmers weren't placed at the centre of the response.

While farmers were paid compensation for lost stock, it was often perceived as "inadequate and onerous to secure", the study says.

"I don't know if the rest of New Zealand realise but, quite often, these farmers are working with multimillion-dollar mortgages and so having to wait for compensation is really stressful," Dr Doolan-Noble said.

"It adds to that uncertainty - farmers with uncertainty day in, day out… they don't need added uncertainty."

In a statement, Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) M bovis director Stuart Anderson said MPI understood eradication efforts had been challenging for the farmers involved.

"We have not yet been provided a copy of the full report or had the opportunity to review it. We look forward to being able to include the report into our lessons learned process, along with other reviews undertaken," Anderson said of the Otago study.

"The eradication of M bovis has been one of the most significant biosecurity challenges we have faced in New Zealand. 

"We listened to a lot of farmer feedback and our programme staff have been very focused on farmer welfare, including getting farmers through the process faster with more support and shorter turnaround times for farms under movement restrictions. Alongside our partners, we have improved the compensation process with claims paid as quickly as possible."

Earlier this year, MPI launched an independent review into New Zealand's handling of the disease outbreak. 

"The Government and farmers have committed a great deal of time and effort to eradicating M bovis and it's been a significant undertaking for everyone involved," panel chair Nicola Shadbolt said in February.

"We can learn a lot from looking at the response overall and understanding what went well from the beginning, what changed as the programme made improvements, and what can be taken on board for future biosecurity responses."