News & Press: NZVA news

Mycoplasma bovis update: 29 June 2018

Thursday, 28 June 2018  
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This M. bovis update includes the following:

  • Update from the CEO
  • Cabinet paper reveals thinking behind M. bovis decision
  • Who’s on NZVA’s Mycoplasma bovis Group and what they will do
  • Ensuring lifestyle blocks understand the risks and how to protect themselves
  • Biggest risk factors are animal movement and raw milk
  • Possible move towards closed herds – how M. bovis could change farming permanently
  • Latest information from MPI

 

Update from the CEO

As the phased eradication plan moves into its fourth week, the government has released a Cabinet paper outlining the thinking behind its decision to opt for phased eradication. Below, we’ve summarised key factors in the decision. The paper also says the government wants to see changes in the farming system to improve resilience and will review biosecurity legislation to ensure it is fit for purpose. The NZVA welcomes these moves and will participate in any reviews and support relevant improvement initiatives.

We are strengthening our own ability to support members dealing with, and thinking about, M. bovis. Members of the NZVA Mycoplasma bovis Group (NZVA MbG) have been named and met for the first time at conference last week. We have also temporarily engaged Ash Keown, Veterinary Resource Officer for the NZVA, to provide support for our NZVA Chief Veterinary Officer, Dr Helen Beattie.

Ash will assist with a variety of tasks, including developing documents for the NZVA MbG. He will also provide support to our wonderful front-of-office-superstar, Melanie Murray, who, along with other members of the NZVA team, has been triaging queries and liaising with members since she started at the NZVA. We aim to provide timely, accurate information to support members’ incoming queries on M. bovis and a multitude of other topics.

I’d like to finish by acknowledging the incredible work being done by veterinarians dealing with M. bovis, including those working in the private sector and for central government. I know people are working long hours, often in stressful conditions, and are having to deal with farmers and others in the rural community who are themselves often distressed because of the impact of M. bovis. I’d like to acknowledge your professionalism and stoicism. Please look after yourself and get support if you need it.

 

Cabinet paper reveals thinking behind M. bovis eradication decision

The government has made public some of the thinking behind its decision to opt for a phased eradication plan. A Cabinet paper released by MPI shows that four management options were presented to Ministers.

These were a rapid eradication, phased eradication, transition to long-term management and transition to wind-down the response. Phased eradication and long-term management were seen as the two viable options. The preferred option for the industry and MPI/Biosecurity Minister Damien O’Connor was a phased eradication plan (including trigger points that would prompt a reassessment of the feasibility of the plan).

The paper also reveals that the Technical Advisory Group advising on the options was split on the likelihood of the success of eradication. Four members did not believe it was achievable and the remaining six differed in their views on when eradication was no longer possible.

The paper reveals that MPI expects eradication could take up to 8-10 years. It also says that while the source of the infection remains unknown, the risk of re-entry remains.

The outbreak has underlined the imperative for strengthening our farming system to ensure good biosecurity. For that reason, the paper also recommends that MPI and Biosecurity NZ begin work to improve compliance with NAIT, review the Biosecurity Act, consider a possible biosecurity levy and implement a programme for farmers to transition towards farm systems that are more resilient.

Download the paper from the MPI website.

 

Who’s on NZVA’s M. bovis Steering Group and what they will do?

NZVA’s Mycoplasma bovis Group (NZVA MbG) is chaired by our president, Dr Peter Blaikie.

Other members of the group are:

Dr Helen Beattie
Dr Mat O’Sullivan
Dr Mark Bryan
Dr Adam Hittman
Dr Fernanda Castillo Alcala
Dr Merlyn Hay
Dr Andrew McFadden
Dr Jon Watts

Terms of reference for the group are being finalised. But the intention is that it will operate similarly to the BVD Steering Committee, of which Peter was a member.

It will take a lead for the profession on M. bovis to ensure the veterinary voice is heard. This includes advocating for the best long-term outcomes for animal health and welfare, as well as human and environmental health.

The group will support members involved in the response by providing resources and developing guidance on certain aspects of the disease and the response.

It will also link closely with stakeholders involved in the response, such as MPI.

 

Ensuring lifestyle blocks understand the risks and how to protect themselves

It is important that owners of lifestyle blocks are aware of the risks of M. bovis, know how to protect themselves, and know what to do if an animal shows signs of the disease. Lifestyle block owners might not be connected to the networks that provide information to farmers (Federated Farmers, DairyNZ, Beef and Lamb New Zealand etc). Veterinarians have an important role to play in keeping this smaller but still significant rural group, well informed.

The biggest risk factors with regard to M. bovis that should be reinforced when talking to lifestyle block owners are movement of animals and movement of milk. These are the two ways the disease is most likely to be transferred. See below for more detail. You are encouraged to share this information with lifestyle block owners, farmers and others in rural communities.

 

Biggest risk factors are animal movement and raw milk

The two biggest risk factors for transferring M. bovis are:

Movement of animals

Farmers should limit cattle movements onto their farms and avoid their animals coming into contact with their neighbours’ animals. Double-fencing boundaries is a sensible precaution. Accurate use of NAIT is required, and animal movement history should be considered before new stock is introduced. Enquiring about the source farm’s NAIT records, and the risks with respect to M. bovis, is encouraged.

Feeding raw milk

Milk from infected cows that is fed to calves is the other key risk factor in transmission of M. bovis. NZVA advocates, that where ever possible, no farm-to-farm milk movements should be undertaken as this is key to reducing transmission of M. bovis.

Milk movement is not recorded in New Zealand, and as a consequence presents a real challenge in response tracing. NZVA strongly recommends that if milk is transported off-farms, this movement is always linked to calf movement between the same farms.

This means calf NAIT tracing will be a proxy for waste milk tracing (which is currently unregulated and untraced) and the risk profile for farms would be linked to the calves as well as the milk.

Ideally farmers would only feed milk from their own farm to their own calves. NZVA realises however, that this isn’t always practical in the current farming environment.

Introduction of milk from outside sources should be considered very carefully. Cows shed M. bovis intermittently so prior bulk milk test results are not a robust way to gauge a farm’s status, and even less so, a cow’s individual status. Shedding is more likely at times of stress (i.e. during transition).

There’s a good summary of how farmers can protect their herd from infection on the MPI website here (see the document titled 'Guidance on protecting your farm').

 

Possible move towards closed herds – how M. bovis could change farming permanently

This outbreak has prompted discussion about whether farming practices in New Zealand need to change, and whether farms should move to closed herd systems. We are already seeing examples of this happening on individual farms, as farmers try to protect their herds from becoming infected.

Bringing stock onto the farm is one of the biggest risk factors in becoming infected (along with feeding calves infected milk). Becoming self-contained is a way for farmers to protect themselves, and anecdotally we are hearing that this is what some farmers are trying to do. There are reports of increased demand for purchasing run-off blocks as farmers think about how to keep their animals within their own farming system and graze their own replacement stock.

Moving to a closed herd system is probably going to be easier in some areas, where there are many smaller well-established farms that are already largely self-contained. In the South Island, where there are bigger farms and more recent conversions, a closed herd system might be more challenging to achieve.

Moving to a closed herd approach offers clear advantages from a disease management/biosecurity point of view. It reduces the risk of transferring other diseases, in addition to M. bovis. Switching from buying in service bulls to using artificial insemination or growing your own bulls is another way to stop animals coming onto the property.

Moving to a closed farm system would, however, have significant financial implications for rural businesses that have been set up to service an open farm system. This includes those rearing calves, grazing stock for farmers, or providing lease or service bulls. The impact on these businesses can’t be underestimated or ignored. It would take time for these issues to be worked through in a way that enables all businesses to retain their viability, albeit, potentially with different farming systems and practices in place.

What is clear is the need to be talking about the risks inherent in some current farming practices, and whether these practices should continue unchanged in future, or whether modifications should be embedded to increase farm resilience.

The Cabinet paper touches on this issue, with the Minister saying the M.bovis response provides a platform for wider changes. These changes would aim to improve “the resilience, sustainability, and productivity of farming systems and land use”. Exactly what this change programme might look like isn’t yet know.

In the meantime, NZVA and our members will continue to provide our profession, farmers, the industry and government with advice on the risks of certain farming practices and potential ways to manage them.

Latest information from MPI

The current number of 'active' Infected Properties (quarantined under movement restrictions) as at 27 June 2018 is 41.

The regional breakdown of total Infected Properties (IPs) from the start of the response is below. The number of 'active' IPs (some have since been depopulated, cleaned and had their restrictions lifted) is in brackets.

Total infected properties since the start of the response:

Hawke's Bay (Hastings): 2 (1 active)
Manawatu (Pahiatua): 1 (1 active)
Waikato (Cambridge): 2 (2 active)
Wairarapa: 1 (1 active)
Canterbury: 22 (17 active)
Otago: 8 (4 active)
Southland: 17 (15 active)

All infected properties are under quarantine controls restricting the movement of stock and equipment on and off those farms to contain the disease.

See MPI’s information for farmers.

See MPI’s fact sheet on testing and surveillance.