Commercial Mycoplasma bovis test for farmers to apply is being developed

A commercial diagnostic tool, which will allow farmers to do their own testing for the cattle disease Mycoplasma bovis is being developed by a partnership comprising commercial laboratories, industry representatives and the Ministry for Primary Industries.

The tool will be released once sampling guidelines, a testing strategy, and possibly an accreditation programme have been developed – to ensure the test can be accurately applied and interpreted.

The ministry’s response director, Geoff Gwyn, said  the partnership had been working hard to provide practitioners and farmers with better diagnostic tests to assist in detecting the cattle disease on their farms since the discovery of Mycoplasma bovis in New Zealand last year.

“However, while testing options and solutions are becoming available, we have identified that interpreting a one-off test result, even at the herd level, in isolation to other factors, is challenging and carries an inherent risk for farmers when in isolation to other factors,” Mr Gwyn said.

“The tests currently available will lead to a significant number of farms being falsely identified as positive and farms that may be real positives being missed.

“That’s why we are developing robust processes, including a testing strategy and sampling guidelines, which may form part of an accreditation programme.”

The partnership behind the test programme includes representatives from NZ Veterinary Association, Beef and Lamb NZ, DairyNZ, Dairy Companies Association of NZ, Federated Farmers, AsureQuality, MilkTest NZ, Livestock Improvement Corporation, New Zealand Veterinary Pathology, SVS Laboratories, and Gribbles Veterinary Pathology.

The veterinary association’s chief veterinary officer, Helen Beattie, said the partnership was focused on helping farmers who were dealing with the many uncertainties around the disease.

“All parties in this partnership are acutely aware of the need for a robust on-farm solution for farmers who are concerned about Mycoplasma bovis. All parties are working urgently on developing this tool, and all the elements needed to support it.”

Any accreditation programme will likely not only consider test result, but also factors such as herd management, animal health, and record keeping (including NAIT records) – all of which will be used to inform farmers of the likely risk of Mycoplasma bovis in their herd.

The ministry is continuing to test milk from every dairy farm in New Zealand – a comprehensive programme that is nearly complete and is being implemented alongside extensive surveillance work to trace every possible movement of animals from infected farms.

“We acknowledge that some farmers may be disappointed they don’t have access to a commercial diagnostic tool now to give them some certainty about whether their animals, or animals they may be purchasing, carry the infection. However, it’s critically important that we don’t rush this – we have to get it right,” said Mr Gwyn.

More information about Mycoplasma bovis can be found HERE. 

Source: Ministry for Primary Industries


Biosecurity Minister is quizzed on time taken to release Mycoplasma bovis advice

Biosecurity Minister Damien O’Connor was questioned in Parliament today about how his Government could claim to be open and transparent when he received the technical advisory group report on Mycoplasma bovis in December but released it only yesterday.

A ruling by the Speaker resulted in the Minister having to acknowledge only that he received the tracing pathway technical advisory group’s report at the end of last year

“… and can I say that the report to the ministry gave advice to officials on how best to attack and control, and hopefully eradicate, a disease that came into this country under that member’s watch because of a National Animal Identification and Tracing (NAIT) system that failed. The technical advisory group report was a report to give good guidance to officials, and has been updated and amended—

Asked for assurances to 22 herd owners that compensation will be fair and fast, the Minister said applications and payments for compensation relied on robust information, fair process, and timely information.

Until all of those things were carried through, the Crown was not in a position to pay compensation but

“… I have insisted that we have sufficient resource to pay out as quickly as we can to all of those people claiming compensation when all the information is provided to MPI.”

Asked if the Minister would commit today to full eradication of M. bovis cattle disease in New Zealand, Mr O’Connor did not say yes or no.  Rather, he said the Government had committed $85 million to the initial stages of the control and eradication of this disease.

If his National predecessor had done more when in office, “we would’ve been in a better position to do it, and it would’ve cost us a hell of a lot less”.

Technical reports released: experts say eradicating Mycoplasma bovis will be difficult and expensive

Government experts have endorsed the steps taken to manage Mycoplasma bovis 

But they say that while eradication of the disease remains technically possible, it would be difficult, time-consuming and costly.

The advice is contained in reports by a Technical Advisory Group to its Mycoplasma bovis response and an internal report examining potential entry routes (pathways) to New Zealand for the disease.

The Ministry for Primary Industries released the reports yesterday.

References to possible legal breaches in relation to how the disease entered the country won’t be released until those matters were sufficiently examined by compliance investigators.

The documents released are:

The ministry’s director of response, Geoff Gwyn, says forming a technical advisory group is a routine part of complex biosecurity responses.

“TAGs give us an independent perspective on what we’ve done and help us take the best possible course of action going forward.

“In this case, the group has found the significant work undertaken by MPI and industry to understand the disease and limit its spread meets internationally-recognised standards.

“The report also suggests enhancements to our work programme that could be made as the response continues. This is the purpose of the report and most of the recommendations have been actioned,” Mr Gwyn says.

The advisory group reports that, despite clear links between infected properties, the extent of the infection, the complexity of diagnostic tests, and deficiencies in record-keeping around animal movements will make the task of eradication difficult and expensive.

The group’s updated advice in February found a minority of members felt successful eradication was less likely than had been assessed in the earlier December report, due to the likelihood of undetected spread since (possibly) 2015, the scale of tracing required, and the failure of NAIT (the National Animal Identification and Tracing scheme) to fully track animal movements.

But Mr Gwyn says a range of options remain for consideration before a final decision can be made.

“The TAG’s advice will help us as we consider whether to proceed with eradication or pursue other options for managing the disease in the longer-term.

“There is critical work being done to model the potential spread of Mycoplasma bovis under different scenarios and in understanding the costs and benefits of decisions around eradication.

“We are confident the disease is not well established in New Zealand and we now need to complete our analysis and planning.

“The decision taken earlier this week to depopulate infected farms will reduce disease pressure and put us in the best position to eradicate or move to long-term management when that decision is made.

“We are taking the appropriate time to reach the right decision. There is much to consider, including the cost benefits and the effects on farmers and their families and on animal welfare. We all want to eradicate Mycoplasma bovis – but it has to be technically possible, practically achievable, and affordable for everyone.”

The technical advisory group will be reconvened for the third time in the next few weeks to discuss next steps.

The report containing the ministry’s analysis of potential entry pathways for the disease examines seven potential routes of entry – imported live cattle, other imported animals, imported frozen semen, imported embryos, imported veterinary medicines and biological products, imported feed, and imported used farm equipment.

The report does not reach any conclusion about the likelihood of any of the seven risk commodities being responsible.

This report was completed in late November as a snapshot, based on information known at that time.  The ministry continues to examine potential entry pathways.

Source: Ministry for Primary Industries

Ministry officers conduct warranted searches during Mycoplasma bovis investigation

Warranted officers from the Ministry for Primary Industries’ compliance investigations team ran simultaneous searches at three locations yesterday as part of an investigation associated with the Mycoplasma bovis response.

The searches were conducted in both the North and South islands.

The ministry’s manager compliance investigations, Gary Orr, says they related to potential breaches of legislation related to the Mycoplasma bovis response.

“We recognise there is strong interest in the rural sector concerning how Mycoplasma bovismay have entered New Zealand,” says Mr Orr.

“We will ensure the outcome of these investigations is communicated to farmers as soon as we are able to provide that information,” Mr Orr says.

The ministry said it would not provide substantive comment while investigations continue.

Source: Ministry for Primary Industries

Ministerial statement is made on steps taken to control spread of Mycoplasma bovis

Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor today made a ministerial statement on the Mycoplasma bovis outbreak in Parliament, to update the House on significant steps taken in recent days to control the spread of the cattle disease.

He said the disease, first discovered in July last year, has an impact on the health of cattle, including high mortality among calves, mastitis, high rates of abortions, and reduced milk production.

“It is a drag on the incomes of farming households, rural communities, and the national economy. I’ve been working hard with officials, industry leaders, and farmers on the ground to take actions to limit the outbreaks impact.”

As reported by AgScience (here, here and here), the Ministry for Primary industries is to  cull 22,332 cattle on all properties infected with the disease – the single biggest cull of cattle in New Zealand’s history.

This follows the introduction of a checkpoint at the top of the South Island for trucks carrying cattle north, which will prevent animals moving from infected and restricted properties.

Mr O’Connor explained the decision to cull cattle now had been taken because milk testing showed Mycoplasma bovis is not endemic in the national herd.

“All our finds to date stem from two farming hubs.

“I note that the industry has backed the Government’s decision and decisive actions in recent days, saying that these steps will allow farmers to plan for the future. These latest actions will be paid for by $85 million that Cabinet and industry groups dedicated to the response earlier this month.”

Tracing the disease had been a massive undertaking, because of the the poor use and application of the national animal identification and tracing system (NAIT). A review of the tracing system found just 57 percent of those farmers recording their animal movements do so within the 48-hour statutory time frame and it’s estimated that only 30 percent of farm-to-farm animal movements are recorded.

“Unrecorded stock movements are a significant reason for the spread of Mycoplasma bovis and have slowed our tracking of the disease. That is simply not good enough. We will work with farmers to fix NAIT’s problems and to protect our economy from future biosecurity threats.”

Officials continue to investigate how the disease entered New Zealand.

Mr O’Connor said eradication is still the Government’s focus, but it will come with a price tag and a lot of hard work and cooperation between everyone involved.

Former Biosecurity Minister Nathan Guy, responding to the ministerial statement, noted Cabinet had still to decide if full eradication will take place and if it is economically viable.

“That is a “get out of jail” card for the coalition Government,” Mr Guy said.

“Yes, they have made a commitment yesterday to cull 22 herds, but we want to see this continue. I guess they’re waiting to see some further evidence that may pop up when animals are indeed under stress.”

He challenged the coalition Government to be fair with its compensation and make it fast.

Dairy industry organisations support cattle cull

DairyNZ and the Dairy Companies Association of New Zealand support the Ministry for Primary Industries decision to cull all cattle on properties infected with the cattle disease Mycoplasma bovis (M. bovis).

Carol Barnao, DairyNZ General Manager Policy, says this is never an easy decision to make.

Removing these animals from the 28 infected properties was a considered and sensible approach, but

“… we should not underestimate how it will affect the farmers involved to lose the herds they’ve managed for years.”

According to the ministry, bulk milk testing had identified only one new infected property to date, Carol says.

“This gives us some reassurance that M. bovis is not endemic to New Zealand. This is an extremely positive sign.

“DairyNZ feels this gives dairy farmers some certainty for the future. For farmers who have been living with uncertainty and the accompanying stress, this allows them to plan for the future.”

Kimberly Crewther, Dairy Companies Association New Zealand (DCANZ) Chief Executive, said her organisation welcomed the ministry’s confidence that M. bovis was not well established in New Zealand.

The national surveillance programme has been a major undertaking and we’re pleased to see it contributing to the information necessary for moving forward with response decisions.”

Carol Barnao says eradicating this bacterial disease from New Zealand needs help from every farmer and some simple biosecurity measures on-farm can make all the difference.

Farmers across the country must comply with NAIT requirements and complete records on their farms for all animal movements, Carol says.


Dave Harrison, General Manager Policy and Advocacy at Beef + Lamb NZ, says the MPI decision provides clarity to farmers who have been living with uncertainty.

This had been a trying few months for affected farmers who had been restricted from trading, borne extra costs, and suffered worry and anxiety about the future, he said.

“We will continue to support our farmers and work closely with MPI as it seeks to establish the extent of Mp. bovis spread in New Zealand, prior to making a decision about whether to eradicate the disease or seek to manage it.

“Regardless of what option is pursued, B+LNZ is determined to ensure any lessons from Mp. bovis are learned to make the livestock sector more resilient to biosecurity threats.”

Sources: DairyNZ; Beef + Lamb NZ


Ministry calls for cull on all properties with Mycoplasma bovis-infected cattle

The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) has determined that all cattle on properties infected with the cattle disease Mycoplasma bovis will be culled.

The ministry’s response director, Geoff Gwyn, said the depopulation of entire herds on all 28 Infected Properties (IPs) in New Zealand was a critical measure to control the spread of the disease

“… and we will be working closely with those farmers to plan how this will happen.

“This will be a big job and won’t happen overnight, but we’ll be meeting with the affected farmers in the coming days to discuss the operation, develop the plans and talk through compensation.”

All IP farmers will be compensated for their verifiable losses.

The ministry continues to build its compensation team to ensure farmers are compensated as quickly as possible. Once farms are de-populated and cleaned, the farmers can start re-building a disease-free herd from scratch.

Mr Gwyn says:

“We are able to take this decision now because we are confident Mycoplasma bovis is not well established in New Zealand.

“The testing of milk from every dairy farm in New Zealand is very well advanced and to date has only identified one new infected property.

“This, combined with MPI’s extensive surveillance work tracing every possible movement of animals from infected farms, gives us the confidence to say the disease is not widespread, but is limited to a network of farms connected by animal movements. Culling these animals is now the appropriate action.”

Non-infected farms that are under Restricted Places Notices (RPN) or Notices of Direction (NoDs) are not yet being asked to cull their herds because infection has not  been confirmed on them.  Confirmation relies on the defining genetic test which provides complete confidence that animals on a farm are positive.

Mr Gwyn says the ministry will work with farmers to develop individual management plans for each of these properties – until a decision on whether to eradicate Mycoplasma bovis or move to long-term management is made.

“We all want to eradicate Mycoplasma bovis – but it has to be technically possible, practically achievable and affordable for everyone.  Our focus is on the resilience of our dairy and beef industries which are such significant contributors to our economy, and on farmer well-being and the welfare of animals.

“Whatever option is taken, we will need to see some big changes in on-farm biosecurity and NAIT compliance. There remains a big job to do around this disease, and there is no quick exit from this situation.”

While the ministry and its industry partners will continue to focus on surveillance and tracking the spread of the disease, there is critical work being done to model the potential spread of Mycoplasma bovis under different scenarios and in understanding the costs and benefits of decisions around eradication.

The ministry had been working on this since the disease was detected and seven farms were depopulated in December.

Further culling was halted until the ministry better understood the spread of the disease.

“We are now at that point where we have that understanding and can complete this work with confidence,” says Mr Gwyn.

“We now believe the disease is not endemic and we can complete this analysis and planning, but we will take care and time to get it right because decisions about the future management of this disease are too important to rush.”

There are 28 active Infected Properties but only 22 have cattle remaining on them that will need to be culled.

Source: Ministry for Primary Industries