All cattle from the Waimate dairy farms infected with Mycoplasma bovis should be culled before Christmas.
The Ministry for Primary Industries told a packed public meeting in the Morven Community Hall on Monday night that 1700 animals had already been slaughtered from the total of 5000 due to be killed.
The bacterial cattle disease has been confirmed on eight farms since it was discovered in New Zealand for the first time in July.
Five farms belonged to the Van Leeuwen Dairy Group and one was a neighbour. The other two – one near Maheno and one at Rangiora – have already had their cattle culled after it had contact with van Leeuwen animals.
The Waimate cattle was transported in specially authorised trucks to Oamaru Meats Ltd.
An Anzco slaughterhouse was being added to the authorised cull sites, ministry response incident controller David Yard told the meeting.
An angry farmer asked why the cattle was not being taken to the Pukeuri or Pareora meat works, which were closer than the Anzco premises. He said he could not believe the ministry would allow infected animals to potentially drop excrement and saliva along the roads, where it could infect other animals.
Ministry epidemiologist and former dairy vet Andy McFadden said all risks had to be taken into account.
“The risks from excretions and saliva on the road is very, very low, if not negligible. It’s extremely small.”
Most of the animals being taken to slaughter were not showing signs of the disease, Dr McFadden said.
Even with the ones that were infected, the survival of the M.bovis organism in the environment was “very, very poor”.
South Canterbury Rural Support Trust representative Sarah Barr said Oamaru Meats had been the only meat works available to take cattle from infected farms because the farmer community did not want other operators, who also went to their own properties, involved.
Ministry technical liaison officer Victoria Barrell said a lot of meat works had turned down the ministry’s requests for slaughter facilities.
“Anzco has come on board.”
It would have three trucks that would be disinfected under ministry supervision after each trip.
“Anzco and Oamaru Meats have to have special programmes in place for this event,” Dr Barrell said.
“The effluent will be treated and managed. It won’t be irrigated on to farms.”
Disposing of the cattle on the farms was “intolerable from the public perspective”, Dr McFadden said. There were clear memories of the huge bonfires when British farmers had to get rid of their livestock in the 2001 foot and mouth outbreak.
“It’s an absolute public-relations nightmare. We want controlled slaughter.”
The meat from cattle with M. bovis was “no different to most countries in the world”, which continued to farm and export beef with the disease present.
It was purely an animal health concern, with no risk to human health.
DairyNZ adviser Chris Morley said on-farm slaughter would affect New Zealand’s trade status if overseas markets saw evidence. It would also be difficult logistically, because farms were not set up for it.
“It’s about trade and perception. I’ve seen it happen.”
Dr Barrell agreed.
“We know how sensitive our markets are. If overseas markets see funeral pyres, it will affect not just these farmers, but all farmers right across New Zealand.”
FARMERS SLOW TO RESPOND
Farmers affected by the Mycoplasma bovisoutbreak have been slow to file compensation claims.
At a meeting hosted by the Ministry for Primary Industries at Morven on Monday night, response incident controller David Yard said three claims had been received so far. More than 40 were expected.
The first payout was being made this week.
“We can only pay when we receive claims,” Mr Yard said.
Wellington-based Federated Farmers policy and advocacy general manager Gavin Forrest said no farmers involved in the outbreak should be worse off because of it.
Ministry compensation team member Wayne Stevens said the Biosecurity Act made compensation available for all farmers who suffered verifiable losses as a result of the ministry’s actions.
Full information must be supplied to the ministry, documenting details of the losses.
“You can put in more than one claim,” Mr Stevens said.
Mr Yard said the ministry was taking the outbreak “very seriously”. It had up to 150 staff involved, with support from DairyNZ, Federated Farmers and Beef + Lamb New Zealand.
He reiterated the need for farmers to take their own on-farm measures to reduce the risk of infection, and to keep accurate animal movement records.
Oamaru vet Mat O’Sullivan told the meeting “a lot of farmers have got very lax with their disinfection points”.
They should make sure contractors could easily disinfect themselves and their equipment when they arrived and before they left the farm, he said.
He also urged all those present to sign up for the ministry’s M.bovis updates.
Ministry technical liaison officer Victoria Barrell said the ministry had a comprehensive library of information available online. She and her colleagues were also talking to industry groups “across the board”.
“The onus is also on them. We provide the information; you have to read it. Seek clarity if you need to.”
A farmer in the audience said all farmers needed to take ownership of biosecurity.
“We beat brucellosis. We beat hydatids. We can do this.”
The audience applauded.