The Oamaru vet who discovered Mycoplasma bovis in a Morven dairy herd two years ago has won the inaugural Outstanding Contribution to the Primary Industries Award.
Merlyn Hay, from Vetlife Oamaru, received the honour in Wellington on Monday night.
She was singled out for the “tenacity and professionalism” she showed in searching for the cause of the unusual and distressing symptoms she saw in cows and calves on the Morven farm.
When she could not make a diagnosis, Dr Hay alerted the Ministry for Primary Industries and the formal identification and response swung into action.
One of the award judges said he had always found rural vets willing to go the extra mile, “but the actions of Dr Hay have given that a whole new meaning”.
“She didn’t have to do what she did, but the country is better for it.”
M. bovis had never before been identified in New Zealand, although it was present in almost all dairying nations.
And it was not one of the diseases vets were asked to watch out for, such as foot and mouth.
“While it was later discovered that M. bovis had entered New Zealand as much as 18 months earlier, there is no doubt that Dr Hay’s detection in July 2017 has meant that we have a good chance of eradicating the disease,” her nominator for the award said.
Had she not been so vigilant and if it had been months or years before the disease was confirmed, New Zealand would have been unlikely to be able to attempt eradication.
“Arguably, Dr Hay has saved the New Zealand primary sector millions of dollars and potentially enabled our country to achieve something no other country has managed – to rid itself of this disease,” the nominator said.
Dr Hay also received national recognition in November last year – a certificate for her contribution to biosecurity excellence at the New Zealand Biosecurity Awards.
“Although this acknowledgement sat outside the award categories, due to Dr Hay’s exceptional work, we felt it was a fitting occasion to recognise her remarkable contribution,” Ministry for Primary Industries engagement acting manager Clare Fraser told the Oamaru Mail at the time.
This week’s awards were given out in front of more than 300 farmers, foresters, fishers and industry representatives at the first Primary Industries Summit gala dinner in Wellington.
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