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Farmers keep taking biosecurity risks

Damien O’Connor says some farmers are continuing to risk biosecurity in the wake of the Mycoplasma bovis outbreak, Thomas Coughlan reports

Farmers who continue to flout biosecurity laws are putting at risk the effort to eradicate the cattle disease Mycoplasma bovis, Primary Industries Minister Damien O’Connor says. 

O’Connor told Parliament's  Primary Production select committee a farmer he spoke to last week had taken four non-NAIT compliant herds onto his property for grazing. NAIT is a tagging system designed to monitor movements of stock around the country and help track biosecurity threats.

MPI’s head of readiness and response Geoff Gwyn told a press conference in May those who continued to take non-NAIT compliant herds were putting themselves at risk. 

“Quite frankly, if they can’t provide you that evidence and you’re going to purchase a herd from them, then you’re going to have to make a decision whether or not you want to accept that risk,” he said. 

But O’Connor and MPI officials told the select committee they were aware movements of non-compliant stock were still occurring, and that problems were “very prevalent”. 

“That’s woeful, you should be embarrassed,” interjected his ministerial predecessor Nathan Guy.

O’Connor said the coming spring and calving season represented a threat to the effort to eradicate Mycoplasma bovis, as milk production would ramp up and farmers would use discarded milk to feed calves.

“We’ll be able to pick up infection through those systems in spring and people who have cut corners or picked up infected milk will show up,” he said. 

But he acknowledged farmers using discarded milk “would put the eradication programme at risk”. 

The Government has broad bipartisan support for its decision to eradicate Mycoplasma bovis, which it announced on May 29. 

O'Connor made a statement to the House before question time on Tuesday on the eradication programme, receiving supportive responses from both sides of the chamber. 

The Government plans to cull an estimated 152,000 cattle at a cost of $886 million in lost production and compensation. It argues this will be cheaper than long-term management of the disease, which would cost $1.2 billion. 

O’Connor also spoke briefly about  Finance Minister Grant Robertson’s comments on TVNZ’s Q&A that an EQC-style levy could be imposed on farmers to pay for biosecurity incursions.

This has divided opinion, with National saying existing Government Industry Agreements (GIAs) are sufficient. 

“There’s been no formal advice yet, because it’s something that the Minister of Finance has flagged,” O’Connor said.

But he thought the idea was a good one.

“I think it’s a good idea that you sit down and work on some kind of levy arrangement that allows us to build a fund that provides finance when needed for these incursions.”

“As we might do with any other insurance regime, like ACC, we’re trying to prefund where necessary,” he said. 

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