There have been quite a few developments over the last week about Mycoplasma bovis.

A Waikato dairy farm and a sheep and beef property in Pahiatua have been confirmed as infected with Mycoplasma bovis. The properties were identified through the tracing of cattle movements.

Like all of the other infected properties, these farms are under strict controls preventing the movement of animals and other at risk goods on and off the properties.

There are 39 farms confirmed as currently infected across the country.

MPI’s latest update can be found here (dated 14 May 2018)

Sign up for MPI’s stakeholder updates here.

Biosecurity New Zealand CEO Roger Smith confirmed the number of farms under regulatory control (notice of direction/NOD) for Mycoplasma bovis disease increased last week – this has been covered heavily in the media. A press release was put out by Minister Damien O’Connor last Friday.

NZVA had no prior visibility regarding the increased NOD numbers, nor do we have the ability to validate these numbers. Given this, it is very difficult to understand the relevance to, and implications this may have on, the incursion response. The response is a very dynamic environment and rapidly changing, on a day-to-day basis.

The NZVA has a team working on supporting members through this incursion and trying to get updates for you as soon as possible. The MPI Mycoplasma bovis website is still the best place for Mycoplasma bovis updates.

This includes up-to-date information, including details of meetings being held in the regions (for example, Pahiatua on 17 May).

An MPI meeting will be held in Cambridge from 11am till 1pm on 25 May at Don Rolands Events Centre.

What we are doing for members

Our profession is being represented and contributing to the response in many places:

Governance Group (GG)

Our CEO Mark Ward attends the Mycoplasma bovis governance group meetings as an observer, ensuring the veterinary voice and position are heard at governance level.

Industry Working Group (IWG)

This group is made up of key stakeholders affected by the incursion, including NZVA, MPI, DairyNZ, beef + lamb, DCANZ, Fonterra, Synlait, Oceania, Meat Industry Association, amongst others.

Since the incursion response began, the veterinary profession has been represented weekly at IWG meetings. Key issues are discussed and collateral developed and shared to ensure consistent messaging. Examples include nasopharyngeal and preputial swabbing technique, on-farm WOF, information pieces regarding Mycoplasma bovis, service bull management, and advice on using imported or local semen. All of these documents, and more, can be found on the NZVA website.

This group also covers issues and concerns raised from members and other stakeholders (e.g. farmers) and feeds relevant information up to the Governance Group. IWG also provides technical advice to the Governance Group.

Subcommittees and working groups

Representatives of the veterinary profession have been involved in a number of key working groups and subcommittees, including:

  1. long term response planning
  2. technical advisory group report review
  3. epidemiology report
  4. PCR testing and commercialisation with supporting swabbing technique documents
  5. commercial testing working group.

Commercial testing update

The commercial testing consultation has seen the NZVA advocate for the profession. We want to ensure robust procedures are in place to support testing outcomes that are practical and useful to farmers. The veterinary profession will likely be asked to provide advice and interpretation of test results, and the NZVA feels strongly that this should not be done in isolation of other key aspects that will contribute to understanding a farm’s risk. We don’t want to leave the veterinary profession exposed and vulnerable.

In the first instance, as a bare minimum, NZVA advocates for a two-phased approach to managing on-farm consultation about Mycoplasma bovis risk:

  1. Assessment of herd risk, based on a number of metrics (e.g. open vs closed herd, NAIT records, use of unpasteurised milk, WOF, and on-farm biosecurity)
  2. Testing, if deemed appropriate, using a testing algorithm (in development)

At a meeting on 16 May, stakeholders furthered this conversation around testing and on-farm advice to farmers. Key ideas from the meeting that relate to veterinarians were:

Any assurance programme that is developed should be run by third party.


Biosecurity is still key in this incursion and more generally, in providing security to all farms. This incursion is a sharp reminder that the basics need to be done correctly, and NAIT is absolutely critical when we find ourselves in situations such as these.

Find the Biosecurity Warrant of Fitness here. There are lots of resources to point your clients to, and to use in a biosecurity conversation, including those on the NZVA website and others, such as: Protecting your farm: A Checklist.

As veterinarians, we can be influential in educating farmers on good hygiene and biosecurity. We need to be clear that spraying mud is useless – a clean surface is required prior to disinfection and contact times are critical for any disinfectant’s efficacy. Spraying mud provides a false sense of security.

The real risks for Mycoplasma bovis are movement of, and contact with, infected animals and feeding calves unpasteurised milk from infected cows – however, this is the time to engage in good general biosecurity practices that are properly done and long lasting.

Waste Milk and Calves

The waste-milk working group has been working to develop systems and processes to mitigate risk of feeding waste milk to calves. A document with general advice will be circulated imminently, which contains advice on waste-milk feeding, and things to consider when buying in calves.

Feeding of waste milk from an infected herd is highly risky, and as such is best avoided in these herds, irrespective of treatments to the milk. Given the constraints of the testing, and the sub-clinical nature of the disease, there are inherent risks in feeding any untreated waste milk. Where possible, the NZVA believes this practice should be avoided.

Acidification and pasteurisation may be used to render Mycoplasma organisms non-infective. Once finalised, NZVA will share this resource.

Media and communications

We have had a careful media policy in place from the beginning of the incursion, acknowledging that MPI are leading the response to this incursion.

NZVA has aimed to speak with authority, and based on fact, not speculation. Our priority has been on ensuring we speak to and provide resource for, members first, rather than engage in all requested interviews. We believe that to publicly speculate causes unnecessary stress and alarm for our people on the ground and their clients who are struggling with a very challenging scenario.

Providing a united front in the first instance (through combined communications with all key stakeholders) was and is important to ensure consistent messaging, and practices to limit confusion and misunderstanding.

Member support includes:

  1. setting up a direct hotline through Vitae
  2. visiting Southland (tied in to regional branch meetings in the South).
  3. attending farmer and veterinary meetings in Southland, North Otago, Waikato

  4. direct liaison with members in affected areas

The Future

A decision is expected by the end of May on whether eradication is to be pursued or if moving to long-term management is more appropriate. The New Zealand Veterinary Association still believes, based on current evidence, that eradication is possible and we believe eradication is the best course for New Zealand in terms of animal welfare, and antimicrobial use and resistance, farmer peace of mind, and the share-milking industry. It is likely that spring surveillance will provide a deeper insight into the spread of the disease, as cows move on to the diary platform and calve, and are likely to shed if infected.

However, eradication decisions and conversations must be tempered with the knowledge that the current restrictions to farming practices are significant and severely affecting the well-being of farmers, veterinarians and animals, and that internationally the dairy, and beef industries have not been prostrated by an endemic status.