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Hoping eradicate decision pays off

Opinion Piece

Cabinet’s decision to opt for eradication of Mycoplasma bovis from New Zealand is a bold one and probably the right one, but will involve a lot of anguish and pain for farmers and must be closely scrutinised right through the programme.

The ambitious plan will see 126,000 cattle slaughtered on top of the 26,000 already killed or earmarked for death. The cost of attempting to eradicate this bacterial infection, which only affects cattle, is also staggering with the estimate now $886 million.

The cost of compensation to affected farmers is estimated at $870m, of which 68 percent will be borne by the Government and 38 percent by Dairy NZ and Beef and Lamb NZ. A $16m “loss of production” cost will be borne by affected farmers.

These are indeed large figures but they should be placed against the $8 billion economic contribution of the dairy industry, $2 billion from the beef industry, the country’s reputation as a food producer and, perhaps most importantly, animal and farmer welfare.

Cabinet’s decision has the support of Federated Farmers and the NZ Veterinary Association, although the former is well aware of the emotional and psychological effect on farmers.

There is a positive in the fact the disease has no trade implications or effect on humans, but it does cast the spectre of what a disaster it would be if foot and mouth or mad cow disease was to slip through New Zealand’s biological defences.

The cull will be managed by the Ministry for Primary Industries, which has not covered itself in glory on this issue. After failing to detect the presence of the disease for two years before it was discovered last year on a South Canterbury farm, it admits its original handling of the issue was not satisfactory.

A much better performance is needed in managing the cull. It is essential that the Government has accurate and up-to-date information to gauge whether it is working.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she did not want to end up in a situation where she looked back and said “I could have tried harder”. It was a brave decision and the whole of New Zealand will be hoping it pays off.