In a decision that could change New Zealand farming, the government is set to announce whether it will cull or contain cattle infected with a bovine disease.
Farmers across New Zealand are in for a sleepless few nights, with the country’s government poised to decide between ordering a mass cull of cattle or a disease containment plan that could change the industry.
New Zealand’s key dairy sector has been struggling with the spread of Mycoplasma bovis since July, with more than 100 farms now either confirmed to have infections or restricted.
The cattle disease has serious animal welfare implications – including causing abortions and pneumonia – but poses no risk to humans, food or milk safety.
On Monday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern will announce whether authorities will aim for eradication – calling for the killing of possibly 60,000 cattle – or opt to just contain the spread.
New Zealand is believed to be only one of two countries – along with Norway – to not have encountered the condition, and the government earlier ordered 22,000 animals to be killed to stop the spread.
The expected bill for further culling is thought to be roughly $NZ400 million, while the containment plan could cause loses of about $NZ1 billion over a decade, according to lobby group Federated Farmers’ president, Katie Milne.
The pressure was “harrowing” for farmers, she told AAP.
“It’s not just affecting those farmers facing culling their animals, losing the animals they work with day in and day out,” she said, adding those relying on grazing income and others constantly fearing infections had also been left under stress.
The containment plan would mean changes for New Zealand’s relatively mobile dairying practices.
For decades, some larger farms have shuffled non-milking cattle between neighbouring properties at certain times of year – rather than having self-contained herds – allowing for larger stock numbers and higher productivity.
“Farms might have to change their way of farming to the other style where they have less stock in total,” , Ms Milne said.
The Ministry for Primary Industries advised farmers they could suspend any ongoing culling ahead of Monday’s announcement.
The disease has been recognised as a major issue in Australia since 2006 and found in all dairy regions.
Australia has provided New Zealand with experts as part of the government response and Ms Milne said positive advice about management overseas had been encouraging.