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Informing the public ... Ministry for Primary Industries director of response Geoff Gwyn fields a question at last week's Waimate meeting, watched by ministry technical liaison officer Victoria Barrell. PHOTO: SALLY BROOKER

Livestock agents in North Otago and South Canterbury are not responsible for misinformation allegedly being spread about Mycoplasma bovis, Mark Yeates says.

The PGG Wrightson Oamaru livestock manager was responding to claims by Beef + Lamb New Zealand farmer-director Bill Wright at a public meeting in Waimate last week.

Mr Wright told about 50 people at the meeting hosted by the Ministry for Primary Industries that he and other farmers were missing out on selling their stock because potential buyers were scared off animals from the region affected by the bacterial cattle disease.

“Stock agents are fuelling the fire,” he said. “People outside the risk area are being penalised.

“I’ve probably had 60 bulls [sales] cancelled because I’m in South Canterbury, but that’s by the by. It’s coming from the agents.”

Mr Yeates, who was present, said he “had quite a good talk to Bill after the meeting”.

It seemed a few agents from beyond the district had misinterpreted the situation. When he “dug a bit deeper”, one of the people responsible for misleading messages was not in the livestock industry at all, Mr Yeates said.

“Most of the lack of information is from outside the North Otago-South Canterbury areas. We’re right in the middle of it.”

He and his colleagues had attended the ministry’s series of meetings and were receiving all its updates, he said.

M. bovis, a disease that affects only cattle and spreads slowly through direct contact, mostly with mucus, was found for the first time in New Zealand in July at two farms near Waimate owned by the Van Leeuwen Dairy Group.

It has been confirmed on seven farms – five in the van Leeuwen group, one near Maheno in North Otago, and a Rangiora lifestyle block. The two latter landowners have voluntarily had their cattle culled. The ministry was arranging for cattle on the five infected van Leeuwen farms to be slaughtered.

“There appears to be a high degree of containment,” Mr Yeates. “We’re in as good a state as we can be.

“As an industry, we’re certainly making ourselves aware of the status of the disease and passing it on.

“It’s not our job to influence farmers’ decisions. It’s not a common practice of our company to be scuttling sales.

“It’s just a matter of being informed. We can point to the information. It is the farmer’s choice.”

If buyers had any concerns, they should go to the ministry’s website and read all the information about M.bovis, not just some of it, Mr Yeates said.

He was impressed by ministry technical liaison officer Victoria Barrell, who told the Waimate meeting farmers were suffering and she was trying to speak to as many people as possible.

“The risk is negligible. I need to speak to the agents. A lot of misinformation is out there. It’s adding fuel to a fire that doesn’t need to be burning.”

Ministry director of response Geoff Gwyn said the ministry was “trying to keep proportionality” about the outbreak. He acknowledged the affected farmers, saying they were “taking a hit for the team”.

“It’s not their fault they’re in this situation.”

The ministry was “increasingly confident it had localised the outbreak”, he said. It was planning how to “depopulate” the five van Leeuwen farms.

“The controls appear to be working. If it was spreading, we would know.”