20 Dec 2017

Cattle disease: Farmers ask MPI 'how did it get here?'

10:23 am on 20 December 2017

Hundreds of farmers packed the Winton hall in Southland last night to learn more about the spread of a cattle disease to their region.

Farmers packed into the Winton Hall in Southland.

Farmers packed into the Winton Hall in Southland. Photo: Supplied

The mycoplasma bovis meeting was hosted by the Ministry for Primary Industries and was pushed for by locals wanting more information after three more infected farms were found in the area last week.

Twelve farms from Southland to Hawke's Bay are now infected.

The disease can cause lameness, mastitis and abortions in cows, but poses no risk to people.

Until recently the infected farms have been linked to the Van Leeuwen Dairy Group which has culled more than 3000 cattle to try to stop the disease spreading.

Emma Hammond is a dairy farmer over the fence from the infected Southern Centre Dairies in Winton. She said last night's meeting was so full farmers had to listen from outside.

She said farmers were anxious to get answers, and there were plenty of questions put to the ministry.

"What everyone wants to know is how did it get here? That's the biggest concern, and then how do they track where it could have gone.

Farmers packed into the Winton Hall in Southland.

Photo: Supplied

Ms Hammond said the ministry told the meeting that there has been 15 separate stock movements off the infected Winton farm.

She said a week after news that her neighbour was infected she and the community were feeling much calmer.

"People last week ... and possibly there still are some, that are angry. But it was really good to see a community feeling. We've got to work together to get rid of this."

Her farm is not in lockdown but boundary fences are up and cows are being tested.

"What they (MPI) said is that the highest risk of it being transmitted is direct animal-to-animal contact ... so over the fence contact is a lot less likely.

"We just keep boundary fences up, make sure people coming onto [the] farm are following good hygiene practices, and wait for our tests ... which is not easy."

MPI is to hold a meeting for farmers in Hawke's Bay tonight.

Animal tracing system 'totally inadequate' - govt

Agriculture minister Damien O'Connor said the animal tracing system NAIT is not working as it should and he wants to be able to name infected farms publicly.

Since the disease was first discovered in July there has been debate over whether newly infected farms should be named straight away.

Farmers want to know which property is infected in case they have had any contact, but to date MPI has said that privacy was more important.

Labour MP Damien O'Connor presented Rose Renton's petition to change cannabis law to the house and sits in on the Health Committee to question submitters.

Damien O'Connor Photo: VNP / Phil Smith

Mr O'Connor said this needs to change.

"The reality is that the tracing system is totally inadequate and we've had to rely on the honesty and goodwill of firstly the infected farm, and then others who may be connected to try and trace animal movements."

He said if the policy was changed and infected farms were publicly named then anyone connected to an infected property could stand up and ask to be investigated.

"The law at the moment around the privacy act, we are told, doesn't allow the exposure [of naming farms], but there may be circumstances ... where we need to, for the greater good, identify or expose where we have some challenges."

Mr O'Connor said the ministry was no closer to knowing how the disease got into New Zealand.

The minister said he has told officials to take a tougher approach with farmers and all other users who do not meet their obligations under the tracing scheme.

Fines of up to $10,000 can be issued for non-compliance.

Mr O'Connor said a large percentage of farm-to-farm movements were not recorded at all.

A review of NAIT will soon be complete, Mr O'Connor said.

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