5 Jul 2019

MPI apologises to farmers over M bovis programme

10:17 am on 5 July 2019

The head of the Ministry for Primary Industries has apologised to farmers over its handling of the Mycoplasma bovis eradication programme.

Ray Smith - Director-General MPI

MPI director general Ray Smith Photo: RNZ / Cole Eastham-Farrelly

The ministry and DairyNZ yesterday released critical reviews of how MPI dealt with the tracking of the debilitating and contagious cattle disease.

Among the findings were that deficiencies related to staffing, training and management led to a backlog of 1400 farms needing assessment.

The DairyNZ review said some of the backlog of cases dated back seven months. A silo-type structure had discouraged communication and collaboration across the response. Staff were often hastily recruited and sometimes lacked the skills, qualifications and experience to work efficiently.

One of the reports said the experience of the response to the outbreak was unpleasant for everyone involved.

"I do apologise to all farmers out there that we put through a lot of anxiety because we got a backlog that we should have identified earlier," MPI director general Ray Smith said.

"We didn't have to put them through that we can't afford to do that again.

"There's no question in my mind we need a much stronger regional response to this, where local farmers are involved in the response ... we're doing this now."

The ministry is looking to replicate the system in Ashburton, where the mayor, MPI, farmers and industry leaders meet weekly.

"We're about to do the same thing in Waimate and we'll spread that around the country."

Mycoplasma bovis can cause lameness, mastitis and abortions in cows and was first detected in New Zealand in 2017.

As of last week, 105,889 cattle had been killed and of the 176 farms confirmed to have the disease, 613 remained under active surveillance.

Mr Smith said it was the biggest biosecurity eradication programme undertaken in New Zealand. "The scale and complexity of it has at times felt quite overwhelming."

One review was conducted by MPI's chief science advisor Dr John Roche, and an independent review commissioned by DairyNZ was conducted by disease management expert Dr Roger Paskin.

Dr Roche and Dr Paskin's reports made 43 recommendations to improve the systems and processes within the M. bovis programme, incluidng greater regional decision-making, the importance of farmer involvement, and improving structures, systems and resourcing.

"M. bovis has a financial and emotional impact on the lives of affected farmers," DairyNZ chairman Jim van der Poel said.

"The findings from these reviews will improve processes that will strengthen the programme, and help farmers affected by the disease. We'll be working with MPI and Beef + Lamb to make sure this happens".

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs