A new target for the eradication of bovine tuberculosis has been set in a review of the national pest management plan for New Zealand.
It aims to wipe out TB in livestock and wildlife in 40 years. TB infection in cattle and deer herds, spread mainly by possums, can cause serious production losses and animal welfare issues.
Farmers and agricultural authorities have been battling it since the 1950s, and more than a billion dollars dollars has been spent on its control since 2000.
That has reduced the number of infected herds from more than 1500 to just 46, and the areas harbouring TB infected possums have been reduced by more than a million hectares in the past three years alone.
Eradication rather than containment of the disease is now seen as a feasible target.
That is the option that being pushed in the latest review which a group representing funders, other stakeholders and the animal health agency OSPRI, is carrying out.
The target is to have all cattle and deer herds clear of TB by 2026, with full eradication of the disease from New Zealand by 2055.
The group's independent chair, Chris Kelly, said it was working to have have a new 10-year pest management plan ready to go to the Minister by about the end of September
"We've learnt a lot in TB control, the use of 1080 has gone down hugely, the number of infected herds have gone down, the number of infected vectors has gone down, so we're looking to do things a bit smarter in this new plan and the upshot of that is likely to be more progress with the same amount of money, or the same amount of progress with a bit less money, which of course farmers will want.
"The question is how far and how fast do we go because the faster we go of course, the greater the cost at least initially, but farmers have put in something like $1.2 billion this far and a lot has been achieved and we don't want to see that slide back at all."
Chris Kelly said the TB eradication plan would be backed up with science.
"We're undertaking two science reviews. One is a review to confirm that we actually can eradicate TB from New Zealand, in a science perspective and we think the answer to that is 'yes', although we've yet to receive the final report, and the second is a series of scientific reviews of the literature, to confirm new ways of controlling TB, which hopefully will eventuate in cost savings."
The group developing the TB plan is running consultation workshops around the country this month, with the new TB control plan timed to take effect from July next year.