Ministry officials are scrambling to update estimates of farms infected with a cow disease after property numbers under question exploded in the last week from 129 to 299 farms.
Two further farms were confirmed in the last day with Mycoplasma bovis, in Oamaru and Southland, bringing the total to 38. This is on top of a sheep and beef farm near Cheviot in North Canterbury added to the list on Wednesday after the disease was found to be detected in the region for the first time.
However, its seems property numbers “of interest” have jumped including those under controls restricting the movement of any risk goods, including animals, on or off the property.
National’s Primary Industries spokesman Nathan Guy said he had doubts about whether the disease could be eradicated “but it will be up to the science”.
READ MORE: Cattle disease Mycoplasma found on North Canterbury farm
He criticised the response for being too slow. “Compensation has been too slow, farmers are really starting to hurt and the banks are circling,” Guy said.
Tracking of the cattle disease showed that more farms than previously expected were likely to be affected, said Biosecurity Minister Damien O’Connor. “While we always expected to find more properties, officials tell me that the numbers will likely exceed their earlier modelling. That modelling work is continuing and we will have a clearer picture in the next couple of weeks.”
Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) officials told a Parliamentary select committee on Thursday the disease was likely to have been in New Zealand since December 2015.
However it was not officially detected through testing until July 21 last year on a South Canterbury farm belonging to Aad and Wilma va Leeuwen.
Head of Biosecurity NZ Roger Smith said the last week had changed everything in relation to the disease because of the jump in farm numbers under question.
“We are still identifying farms and getting closer to making a decision about eradication.”
In the meantime MPI was still working through compensation payments to farmers. Director of response Geoff Gwyn said the time it took to prepare a compensation application varied from 48 hours through to as much as four months.
Much depended on the accuracy of the records kept by farmers.
O’Connor said tests so far showed all of the infected properties were connected in some way.
This indicated that there were no fresh incursions from other sources.
“The tracing of Mycoplasma bovis is made harder by the poor use of the national animal tracing system (Nait),” said O’Connor. “We could have tracked this more quickly if the system had been used properly. The previous Government’s inaction, lack of enforcement and promotion of Nait has created major issues for hunting down Mycoplasma bovis.
“We will make changes to the Nait system.”
A cull of 22,000 cows is underway, with nearly half of the animals already destroyed.
“That cull is necessary to reduce the disease’s spread through the national herd. I know farmers whose properties are under control restrictions face a difficult time,” said O’Connor.
“I’m working hard to ensure the Government and sector make the best possible decision with the best possible information regarding Mycoplasma bovis. I expect that decision will come in the next few weeks.”
“Farmers should ensure any compensation claims they make related to Mycoplasma bovis are accurate, as it makes the process quicker. MPI and Dairy NZ have boosted the number of people working directly with farmers to assist in that process.
“As of close of play Wednesday May 9, 38 farms were active infected places and another 40 were under Restricted Place Notice (i.e. considered highly likely to become infected). Nearly 1700 properties are of interest because of risk events such as animal movements, the supply of milk for animal feed or because they are adjacent to infected properties,” O’Connor said.
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