Law changes are enacted under urgency to support M.bovis eradication

Biosecurity Minister Damien O’Connor today announced a package of technical law changes to support the Mycoplasma bovis eradication programme.

He said the response to cattle disease M.bovis has highlighted problems in the National Animal Identification and Tracing scheme (NAIT), primarily farmers not registering animal movements and a lack of compliance activities to ensure NAIT’s use.

Changes to the NAIT Act 2012, made under urgency in Parliament this week, will:

• Align the NAIT Act search powers with the Search and Surveillance Act.
• Make it clear that all animal movements must be declared to NAIT, even if the new location is not a registered NAIT location.
• Hold to account those who fail to declare those movements to NAIT.

These changes go no further than providing powers that already exist under other Acts, which allow officers to lawfully obtain information where non-compliance is an issue, the Minister said.

The Government has created three infringement offences under the Animal Products Act 1999 related to non-compliance with certain Animal Status Declaration requirements.

Furthermore, M.bovis is being made a notifiable organism under the Biosecurity Act 1993.

This means people who suspect the presence of the disease in a new location must report it to the Ministry for Primary Industries. Prompt reporting is necessary to eradicate the disease.

“Since getting the NAIT Review in April, compliance activities have been stepped up with hundreds of on-farm checks, compliance warnings, stock truck checks and 39 infringement notices – compared with one in the previous five years,” Mr O’Connor said.

“Today’s legislation marks another meaningful step in bolstering NAIT. We are already implementing nearly two dozen changes that don’t require legislative change, and will revisit NAIT legislation again in coming months after consulting on more changes, including making NAIT easier to use.”

National’s Agriculture spokesperson, Nathan Guy, said some changes to the NAIT legislation were needed, but Parliament had been denied the opportunity to properly scrutinise Government amendments which may not be in the best interests of farmers.

The Minister had had months to introduce the Bill into Parliament, but instead had expanded wide-ranging search powers under urgency, he said.

Among Guy’s concerns, Ministry for Primary Industries officials will be able to turn up on farmers’ properties without getting a warrant and seize anything they want, unannounced and without cause.

National had asked Mr O’Connor to send the Bill to a select committee during the two-week Parliamentary recess to allow public input and ensure there are no unintended consequences for farmers. Guy said the Minister refused.

“National proposed amendments during the debate that an officer needs reasonable cause to suspect non-compliance with NAIT before entering the property,” he said.

“We also proposed that these wide-ranging warrantless powers being curtailed, so a NAIT officer can’t seize property without obtaining a warrant.

“Unfortunately, both of these safeguard amendments were voted down by the Government.”

But National did successfully move an amendment that requires the Minister to report to Parliament next year on how these expanded powers are being used.

National reluctantly supported the legislation to improve NAIT’s performance but remains “gravely concerned about the process and invasion of farmer’s privacy”, Guy said.


Career funding available to support graduate vets in the regions

Associate Agriculture Minister Meka Whaitiri is encouraging the next generation of vets to apply for career funding through a scheme designed to support and increase the number of graduate vets working with production animals in the  regions.

Having opened applications for 2018, Minister Whaitiri says the Voluntary Bonding Scheme for Veterinarians offers 30 recipients who are developing careers in our heartland, $55,000 each over five years.

“Animal health and well-being is critical to the success of our primary industries and wider economy. Having skilled workers such as vets in our regions, where they are desperately needed, plays a key part in that success,” says Meka Whaitiri.

“To date, 256 graduates have benefited from this initiative and made a valuable contribution to rural veterinary centres focused on working animals – such as cows, sheep and horses.

One hundred and sixty-eight female graduates have seized this career-enhancing opportunity and the Minister encouraged even more women who want a rewarding role in rural vet services to apply.

Ministry for Primary Industries officials are about to conduct a survey of all scheme participants, to investigate how the scheme can be further refined in line with the Government’s priorities in terms of inclusivity and diversity. Ms Whaitiri expects this work to be completed by the end of the year.

Applications for career funding close at 3pm on Monday August 27.

Source:  Associate Minister for Agriculture

It’s a snip – learner vets provide cut-price de-sexing service

An item of news from Massey University’s publicity department drew attention – it seemed – to activities worthy of some sort of protest. Or some glimmer of public concern, at least.

It was headed 500th surgery for de-sexing programme and featured a picture of the programme coordinator, two students and (his, her or its identify camouflaged by a sheet) the 500th patient.

So what’s going on?

According to the opening sentence:

A Massey University programme that has been providing discounted de-sexing surgeries for community service card holders reached an impressive milestone of 500 surgeries.

The demand for this sort of medical intervention from community service card holders with an urge to be neutered is bigger than we ever imagined, obviously.

The article went on:

The clinics have been running on Saturdays and Sundays at the Massey Veterinary Teaching Hospital since August last year with more than 250 staff and student volunteers involved so far.

Programme coordinator Dr Carolyn Gates decided to set up the clinics up after being involved with a similar initiative while she was a veterinary student at University of Pennsylvania in the United States.

Only when we read on do we get a hint that maybe this is not a service providing cut-rate de-sexing procedures for low-income people; it is being provided for their pets.

“I wanted to create a similar programme here because I saw how much value there was for the students, cats and community. In a short amount of time, we have made real progress in improving student confidence with basic clinical procedures while also providing a valuable low-cost desexing service to the community.”

SPCA Palmerston North maintains the waiting list of clients and the Massey Veterinary Teaching Hospital provides the facilities and equipment.

With more than 150 cats still on the waiting list, it shows no sign of slowing down.

All Bachelor of Veterinary Science (BVSc) and Bachelor of Veterinary Technology (BVT) students can help out in various roles based on their experience level. These range from administrative and assistant roles for first year students (responsible for client communication, patient restraint, and medical record keeping) to anaesthesia and spay surgeon roles for fourth and fifth-year BVSc students.

“Before participating, the students are required to read detailed step-by-step guides outlining the tasks and responsibilities for each role to make sure we are keeping the patients safe at all times,” Dr Gates says.

“We have two fabulous student leaders from the BVSc4 [fourth-year Bachelor of Veternairy Science] class, Maggie Gater and Dani Harris, who have done an amazing job preparing the training materials and coordinating the army of volunteers.”

The de-sexing procedures involve basic surgical skills including making an incision, identifying different organs in the abdomen, tying off blood vessels, and suturing the body wall and skin closed.

The students practice these skills on simulated models to make sure they are competent before working with live patients. With an experienced teaching vet guiding the students through the entire procedure, there is a very low risk of things going wrong.  Most students are ready to go “solo” after about six to nine supervised procedures, Dr Gates says.

The programme is now financially self-sustaining and will continue as long as there are  staff volunteers willing to come in on weekends to help teach.  How much the programme is impacting students and the community is being monitored.

Source: Massey University

Monsanto loses glyphosate cancer case – expert reaction

A review of the safety of Roundup in New Zealand is among the likely consequences of the court case in the US which resulted in Monsanto being ordered to pay US$289 million (NZ$439 million) to a former school groundskeeper after a jury found it contributed to the man’s terminal cancer.

Dewayne Johnson claimed Monsanto’s popular Roundup weed killer was linked to his disease.

After three days of deliberations, a San Francisco jury awarded him US$250 million (NZ$380 million) in punitive damages and around US$39 million (NZ$59 million) in compensatory damages.

His victory may pave the way for thousands of other cases alleging the glyphosate-based herbicide causes non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Media headlines in this country included “Roundup case: Scientists caution against knee-jerk NZ ban” , but disagreement was reflected in the headline which said “NZ should ban Roundup weed killer – expert” .

The Environmental Protection Authority has ruled Roundup safe to use and the US ruling hadn’t changed that position but Associate Environment Minister Eugenie Sage said she would be asking the agency to consider adding it to its hazardous substance reassessment list in the light of the decision.

 The Science Media Centre has gathered these expert comments –


Dr Belinda Cridge, Programme Leader and Lecturer in Toxicology, The University of Otago, comments:

“The court case is an interesting test case based on some relatively new evidence. In 2016, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) re-classfied glyphosate [the active ingredient in Roundup] as a ‘probable human carcinogen’ a decision based on an extensive review of available data including epidemiological [human] studies.

“However, the impact this finding is being debated widely, partly due to the involvement of large corporations and also because the IARC assesses a chemical’s carcinogenic potential but does not generally conduct a full risk assessment, judging where and how contact with the chemical may occur.

“These additional factors are important in determining the overall risk associated with the use of a chemical in various situations. For comparison and context the IARC has also classified red meat consumption as a probable carcinogen. This is based on good scientific evidence but highlights that understanding wider factors are critical to determining full risk. However, the underlying finding of the IARC stands, glyphosate may cause cancer under the right conditions and exposures.

“The case in the US cited that adjuvants [additives in the Roundup beyond the active glyphosate compound] may have had a synergistic effect to cause the cancer. Synergistic effects occur when two chemicals which are relatively benign separately, act together to make a small effect much worse.

“The toxicology of mixtures such as this is something that toxicologists are only just starting to really understand in any detail. It is very difficult to model and track all possible interactions. This means that there is a very real possibility that adjuvants in the Roundup mixture accelerated any carcinogenic effects but to the best of my knowledge this is hypothesised rather than proven. It is a very real possibility but has not been conclusively demonstrated using laboratory or epidemiological studies.

“The terms of the case are interesting as the plaintiff did not need to demonstrate conclusively that glyphosate caused the cancer, only that it was a plausible contributing factor. Also, Monsanto is unable to prove that glyphosate definitely did not cause the cancer. There is still no proof either way but the success of the prosecution will encourage others to seek remuneration using the IARC classification as evidence.

“Finally it is important to consider the whole picture. Roundup isn’t, and has never been, a safe panacea for all weed control. Scientists continue to learn more and more about this chemical and its effects. However, the alternative options aren’t very appealing and many are much much worse for both people and the environment.

“Roundup has been used extensively worldwide for a long time, it has a reasonably good safety record and has limited environmental effects – compared to the alternatives. Yes, improvement is needed but for farmers Roundup is one of the safer options currently available.

“My standard advice is for people to not use chemicals where they don’t need to (thinking of the home gardener, hand pulling weeds is tiresome but much safer thanany chemical alternative), know what chemicals you are using and be rigorous about safety equipment. This applies to all the chemicals we use from home cleaners to industrial chemicals in the workplace to agrochemicals such as Roundup.”

No conflicts of interest declared.


Ian C Shaw FRSC, FRCPath, Professor of Toxicology, University of Canterbury, comments:

Is glyphosate a carcinogen?

“On March 20, 2014, the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified glyphosate (the active component of Roundup) as Carcinogen 2b – possibly carcinogenic to humans. Based on the available animal data, cell culture studies and epidemiological data relating to human exposures, in my opinion this was a very reasonable conclusion.

“This classification led some countries to review their use of glyphosate, because the possibility of the chemical being a carcinogen in humans put into question the benefit of glyphosate (Roundup) when set against this considerably increased risk – prior to this, glyphosate was considered safe.
NZ responded quite differently.

“The NZ EPA invited Dr Wayne Temple to consider and report on the IARC ruling and the data that was used for the IARC risk assessment. Dr Temple’s review concluded that glyphosate was unlikely to be a human carcinogen and unlikely to be genotoxic (most carcinogens are genotoxic, i.e. damage genes). On the back of this deliberation, NZ decided not to reconsider the regulatory status of glyphosate-containing herbicides.

“Dr Temple seems not to have considered the possibility of non-genotoxic carcinogenesis (some chemicals that cause cancer do not directly alter genes) in his assessment of the results. This was particularly surprising because experiments have shown that glyphosate can interact with a cell receptor (estrogen receptor) that stimulates some cells to grow – this is the way some non-genotoxic carcinogens work. In view of this, and other aspects of Temple’s report, I found the NZ EPA’s decision lacked scientific rigour.

“The US court ruling was clearly based on an acceptance of the IARC classification and the evidence underpinning it. Remember though that the courts require a balance of probabilities (i.e. only 51 per cent) for a guilty verdict, while scientists usually require much greater statistical security.

“I do not think we should base our regulatory decisions on a US court case, but I do think that the evidence that glyphosate is possibly a carcinogen in humans is robust. I favour categorising glyphosate as hazardous and reassessing its regulatory status in NZ.”

No conflicts of interest.


Assoc Prof Brian Cox, cancer epidemiologist, University of Otago:

“In 2015, the IARC classified glyphosphate, a major ingredient of RoundUp, as a probable carcinogen (a possible cancer causing agent in their Group 2A category).

“That is, the IARC consider that there is limited evidence that glyphosphate may cause cancer, but the association with cancer may be due to other things.

“Herbicide use is seldom exposure to just one specific product and the dose, duration, type, and frequency of exposure is relevant to any potential risk.

“A jury in the USA has considered the limited evidence sufficient in an individual case to attribute a man’s non-Hodgkin lymphoma to his exposure to glyphosphate.

“A sudden reaction to one case in one US law court, that has not yet gone to the appeal court, is not an appropriate method of developing health policy in New Zealand.

“However, it is appropriate that New Zealand does keep watch on the overseas evidence about the risk of cancer from glyphosphate exposure and assess and balance of evidence of that risk and the views of users, the public and New Zealand industry.

“The IARC definition of Group 2A is: the agent is probably carcinogenic to humans. This category is used when there is limited evidence of carcinogenicity in humans and sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity in experimental animals. Limited evidence means that a positive association has been observed between exposure to the agent and cancer but that other explanations for the observations (called chance, bias, or confounding) could not be ruled out. This category is also used when there is limited evidence of carcinogenicity in humans and strong data on how the agent causes cancer.”

No conflicts of interest declared.


Dr Kerry Harrington, Senior Lecturer in Weed Science, Massey University:

“As I am a weed scientist and not a toxicologist, it is not appropriate for me to comment on the finer details of the toxicological debate over the safety of glyphosate. However, I can report that a number of recent reviews by toxicologists around the world have reiterated that glyphosate is a safe herbicide to use and does not cause cancer. These reviews take account of animal studies which directly measure whether a chemical causes cancer or not, which I understand were not taken into consideration by IARC when they claimed glyphosate does cause cancer.

“Even if it is as carcinogenic as claimed by IARC, this would appear to be in a category that is less risky than eating preserved meats, yet there is no outcry asking for these to be banned.

“It is a concern if decisions on the use of glyphosate in New Zealand hinge on the outcome of a court case in USA where a jury of ordinary members of the public had to decide about complex issues of toxicology.

“Glyphosate is one of our major weed control tools. Hopefully the calls for it to be banned will take into consideration the low risk of problems and the crucial importance of this herbicide for sustainable weed control worldwide.”

No conflicts of interest declared.

Science group to help Mycoplasma bovis eradication efforts

A science advisory group has been formed to strengthen efforts to eradicate Mycoplasma bovis (M. bovis).

Members of the M. bovis Strategic Science Advisory Group will provide strategic scientific advice to the Mycoplasma bovis Governance Group.

Announcing the group’s formation today, the Ministry for Primary Industries says science continues to be critical to the M. bovis response and the advisory group will be a valuable resource to enable current science activities to be scaled up and expanded.

“The advisory group will ensure we have on-going access to some of the best minds and knowledge relating to M. bovis, which will bolster the eradication effort,” says Roger Smith, head of Biosecurity New Zealand and chair of the Mycoplasma bovis Governance Group.

The advisory group will contribute expertise on a range of science matters, including:

  • identifying any critical knowledge gaps and ways to address them, including considering emerging technologies and ideas that may help eradicate M. bovis;
  • prioritisation of M. bovis research efforts;
  • coordination of current and future science initiatives relating to M. bovis;
  • learning from other research programmes in New Zealand and internationally;
  • providing assurance that M. bovis eradication research efforts remain fit for purpose.

Members of the advisory group understand this is an unsettling time for many farmers and are moving quickly, says Dr John Roche, the group’s chair and the Ministry for Primary Industries’ departmental science adviser.

“The group has already identified some key priorities for immediate work, and will hold a workshop in September to get wider input into developing the broader science plan,” says Dr Roche.

Advisory group members –

John Roche – departmental science adviser, MPI (chair).

Glenn Browning – professor, director, Asia-Pacific Centre for Animal Health, Faculty of Veterinary and Agricultural Sciences, University of Melbourne, Australia.

Hamish Gow – professor of agribusiness, Massey University.

Nigel French – distinguished professor, executive director of the Infectious Disease Research Centre, Massey University.

Axel Heiser – senior scientist, immunology, AgResearch.

William McMillan – independent agri-business consultant and scientist;

Kaiārahi Ahuwhenua – Federation of Māori Authorities.

Trish McIntosh – director, North Canterbury Vets.

Roger Ayling – private consultant with extensive M. bovis research experience, United Kingdom.

Cameron Stewart – research scientist, Disease Prevention and Detection, CSIRO.

James Turner – resource economist and senior social scientist, AgResearch.

Shaun Hendy – director, Te Pūnaha Matatini, University of Auckland, complex systems, networks, and mathematical modelling.

Prue Williams – general manager Science System Investment and Performance, MBIE.

Veronica Herrera – director, Diagnostics and Surveillance Services, MPI.

Source:  Ministry for Primary Industries

Submissions show support for a single organic standard

Food Safety Minister Damien O’Connor says a majority of public submissions support the Government’s preferred approach of a single set of rules for organic production.

Currently, organic producers can choose to meet voluntary standards or back up their organic claims in other ways.

New Zealand is out of step with many other countries that have a national standard for organic production, Mr O’Connor said.  These standards give their consumers confidence they’re paying premiums for genuine organic products and potentially boosts their market access.

Over the past few months, 85% of 208 people who responded to a consultation said they support a change in the way organics is regulated, with 76%  supporting the Government’s preferred option of a single set of rules for organic production.

The next step is to draft a Cabinet paper to progress work on a national standard that would help build confidence for both our consumers and producers at home and our growing organic export trade.

“The Government is committed to partnering with the primary sector to work smarter not harder and extract more value from what we do now,” Mr O’Connor said.

A summary of the organics consultation submissions and the Cabinet Paper can be seen here.

 Source:  Minister of Food Safety

Tighter import rules are aimed at stopping stink bug

New treatment and cleaning rules for imported vehicles and machinery will make it harder for brown marmorated stink bugs to make landfall in New Zealand, says the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI).

The ministry released the new import health standard for vehicles, machinery and equipment today. It will come into force on  September 1 – the beginning of the stink bug season.

“Imported vehicles and machinery pose a high biosecurity risk, as stink bugs hibernate in nooks and crannies during the northern hemisphere winter,” says Paul Hallett, MPI manager of facilities and pathways.

He says the new standard has a big focus on Japan following biosecurity issues earlier this year with contaminated vehicle carriers.

There are also new restrictions on imports from many European countries, recognising the spread of stink bug through this part of the world.

“One of the big things is making it compulsory for treatment to take place offshore for non-containerised vehicles and machinery sourced from affected countries. We simply don’t want to run the risk of having contaminated cargo enter New Zealand waters.

“The new standard also covers new vehicles from Japan. In the past, we have focused on used vehicles from this country. New vehicles can be easily contaminated if they are not securely stored.”

The approved treatment options are fumigation with methyl bromide or sulfuryl fluoride and heat treatment, says Mr Hallett.

“We expect most of the imports from Japan will undergo heat treatment, as that’s going to be available locally and Japan has restrictions on some fumigants.

“We want to do everything we can to stop brown marmorated stink bug from invading New Zealand, given the damage it could cause to our horticulture industry.”


  • 14 more countries have been added to the list requiring mandatory treatment of vehicles and machinery during the stink bug season. This requirement previously only applied to vehicles from the United States and Italy.
  • Used imports from Japan will need to be both treated and cleaned offshore as part of an approved system during the season.
  • All other new and used imports (during the stink bug season) from other countries covered by the standard will need to be treated or go through an approved system.
  • Vehicle manufacturers will have the option of applying to MPI for biosecurity approval of their supply chain processes, avoiding the need to treat each new unit. This involves having strict controls in place to reduce the risk of contamination.
  • Used machinery from any country must have a certificate proving it has undergone thorough cleaning and treatment before arrival in New Zealand. There must be evidence the machinery was disassembled for cleaning. It must also arrive with a sticker showing how and when it was treated.
  • MPI can approve alternative treatments, but only if there is proof they can produce the same outcome as the approved methods.

Source:  Ministry for Primary Industries