PM not ready to admit defeat in cow disease battle

The Prime Minister says this country is not yet ready to admit defeat to the cattle disease Mycoplasma bovis.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern speaking to farmers in Waikato. Photo: RNZ / Andrew McRae

There are now 39 farms that have tested positive for the disease and a further 1700 deemed to be at risk.

The disease causes mastitis, pneumonia, abortions and lameness and can result in the deaths of cows and calves, but it does not infect humans and presents no food safety risk.

The most recent find was in Waikato last week, with one farm now in lock-down.

Today, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern went down country in Waikato to hear first-hand about how the disease is impacting farmers.

Ms Adern said she was there to listen, and the government has been trying to tackle the disease alongside industry for months.

“Hearing it had come into Waikato is a blow around the management of this issue,” Ms Ardern said.

Hugh Wallace, who has been dairy farming in the area for about 22 years, wants the disease eradicated but knows it could prove difficult

Mr Wallace said he thought the animal identification and tracking system needed to be enforced if there is going to be any chance of stopping the disease.

“People are going to grunt and moan about it but I think it is a fact of life that we need to be able to know where things are and address them appropriately when they arrive.”

While pleased Ms Ardern had made the time to visit farmers, he said not enough was being done to contain and eradicate the disease.

However, Mr Wallace said living with the disease would be as expensive as trying to eradicate it.

“[But] in the first instance you have to go down the line of eradicating it.”

Farm owner John Hayward is keen not to point the blame but for everyone to work together to either get rid of the disease or work out how to manage it.

Federated Farmers dairy section chair Chris Lewis said farmers were learning more about the disease every week.

“Are farmers happy? No probably not, is MPI happy? Probably not, so we are all in this together.

“I am sure there are frustrations on both sides but at the end of the day we all have to work together to get rid of it and to come up with a good plan to eradicate it,” he said.

Ms Adern said decisions on what to do next would be made over the next week, based on technical advice and industry feedback.

But she said the country was not yet at the point of admitting defeat.

“Keeping in mind it is only New Zealand and Norway that is free of Mycoplasma bovis and we are in a unique situation but it does mean there are other countries we can learn from their success and failure.”

“We need to come up with a plan that is unique to the New Zealand situation,” she said.