25 May 2018

MPI 'slow, uncoordinated', under-prepared in M bovis response

From Checkpoint, 5:12 pm on 25 May 2018

One of the owners of the South Canterbury farm where Mycoplasma bovis was first found says MPI has been slow, uncoordinated and under-prepared in its response to the disease.

Wilma Van Leuuwen said she knew the farmer who managed the Waikato farm where the disease was found in December.

“It was traced to them, up there in Cambridge in December, and nobody came on the farm to do testing straight away.

“That person was able to trade stock or do whatever he wished until February when they locked him down and started doing the testing - and they didn’t even notify it until May that he was positive. It’s rather slow.”

Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) was never prepared to manage the disease, and would never have enough staff to cope with it now it had spread throughout the country, she said.

MPI said in a statement that it stood by the decisions it had made.

“We are well aware of the personal toll that this response is taking on farmers. It’s particularly difficult for farmers who have been directly affected by Mycoplasma bovis.

“We can assure you that all of the actions taken to date, while difficult, have been done with the ultimate aim of protecting New Zealand’s farmers.”

The disease was first confirmed on the Van Leuuwen’s farm, but MPI has said it believed the Zeestraten’s farm in Southland was the first New Zealand farm which had the disease – as early as December, 2015. 

Ms Van Leuuwen’s husband and Alfon Zeestraten’s brother’s ex-wife are brother and sister. Ms Van Leuuwen said it was unfair how MPI has treated Alfon Zeestraten.

“That’s absolutely unfair. He’s a very good farmer. It’s just not fair, and like I said, it’s finger pointing and MPI shouldn’t be doing that because they’re wrong.”

MPI said it wasn’t targeting the Zeestratens.

“All of the decisions we have made during the Mycoplasma bovis response have been based on evidence, and scientific and technical advice. We strongly disagree that we have unfairly targeted anybody.”

About 4500 of Ms Van Leuuwen’s cows had been culled due to the disease, something she said was not necessary.

“Just because you’ve got some animals with symptoms doesn’t mean to say the whole herd are sick.”

“They just eradicated everything. Perfectly healthy calves with no disease, and they still killed them.”

However, MPI said infection was considered at a “whole herd level”, and if animals had mixed with other animals, then the whole herd needed to be culled.

Ms Van Leuuwen said Cabinet should let farmers manage the disease rather than eradicate it. It was due to make a decision on the best course of action on Monday.

“Cabinet should just let this disease go and let farmers manage it themselves like they have been doing - over I don’t know how many years - and they’ve been doing that unknowingly.”

MPI disputes farmers can manage the disease themselves.