Are officials ignoring Gypsy Day disease risks?

Changing farms on so-called Gypsy Day (June 1), when large numbers of farmers shift stock, requires extra precaution because of Mycoplasma bovis. But the Ministry for Primary Industries says it hasn't got any additional safeguards in place beyond the 300 or so farms under some form of restriction.

This is despite government admitting significant flaws around the National Animal Identification and Tracing (NAIT) regime, meaning keeping track on cattle movements has been haphazard in many cases.

"There are no plans to make any restrictions on animal movements [around Gypsy Day] other than those farms that have been issued with legal direction by MPI," a spokesperson says.

Farmers traditionally move stock on or around June 1 for winter grazing. At the same time sharemilkers, who own their own cows, move their herds to new farms. Mycoplasma bovis was first reported last July, and there are now 39 infected properties in different parts of the country, with another 260 under some form of surveillance.

Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor says a further 1,700 are of interest. MPI has ordered the culling of 22,000 cattle and will make a decision by the end of this month whether to continue attempting to eradicate the disease or move to managing it 

Farmers are required to comply with the National Animal Identification and Tracing (NAIT) regime whenever they move stock, but officials say not all movements have been well documented. This has hampered the ability to track and trace Mycoplasma bovis.

Late Monday Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the spread of the disease in the North Island left the new government "picking up the pieces of significant neglect and under-investment" and was "quite frankly shameful."

"There was a system in place; it has failed abysmally," she said

The MPI spokesperson said "anyone under our legal controls will have their own requirements to meet and they won’t be allowed to move cattle. However, those farmers who are not under controls are allowed to move their stock, but they must adhere to their National Animal Identification Tracing requirements and record animal movements."

Changing farms "requires extra special precautions because of Mycoplasma Bovis," MPI said in a set of recommendations published jointly with DairyNZ, Federated Farmers and the New Zealand Veterinary Association ahead of Gypsy Day, known more formally as Moving Day.

Those who use the sharemilking and contract milking business model are particularly vulnerable to financial shocks should a disease like Mycoplasma bovis come onto the farm, according to the recommendations.

"If at all possible, stay on the current farm, with the same herd. Or, if you are a farm owner, keep the current sharemilker, with the current herd. However, this may not be possible or desired."

MPI recommends farmers who are bringing a new contract milker or sharemilker ask for bulk milk Mycoplasma bovis test results of the source herds if available. They also suggest buying animals from as few different farms as possible, and asking if NAIT recordings have been completed for all cow, calf, and cattle movements.

Farmers should set aside land where new animals can be kept under quarantine for seven days, separate to stock already on a farm, the Ministry says.

Bulk milk testing is going on at dairy farms all over the country and individual farmers should know the results two weeks after the final milk sample has been collected, according to MPI. A 'not detected’ result can give farmers an indication that the herd is free of disease and help with farm management decisions. This result is not, however, an absolute guarantee that a property is free from the disease, MPI says.

Read moreWhy NAIT failed – and what’s being done to fix it

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