How New Zealand Has Worked to Eradicate a Costly Cow Disease - Modern Farmer

How New Zealand Has Worked to Eradicate a Costly Cow Disease

Later this year, the country will become the first to get rid of Mycoplasma bovis, a contagious and painful disease in cattle.

Cows grazing in New Zealand.
Photography by Paul Looyen, Shutterstock.

New Zealand has rid 271 farms of a disease known to decimate cow populations, effectively eradicating it from the country. 

The bacterial disease, Mycoplasma bovis, causes immense pain in cows as it often leads to cases of bronchopneumonia, mastitis, arthritis and other issues to the animals’ major organs. Although Mycoplasma bovis doesn’t pose a food safety issue in beef byproducts of cattle, the illnesses it causes result in sickly cows and corresponding low product yields.

After a nationwide effort to get the disease out of herds, only one beef feedlot in all of New Zealand still hosts infected cattle. When the lot is cleared, which Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor told the Associated Press will be later this year, the country will become the first to eradicate the disease, which impacts cattle globally—most prominently in the US and Europe.  

The country first discovered the disease—which spreads among animals even if they are asymptomatic—in herds in 2017 and has since invested major dollars and four focused years to get the infection out of its cattle stock. It’s currently unclear how the disease entered the country. 

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The government provided the funding for most of the process, with help from farmers and the cattle industry, and came in slightly under its original $886-million budget (US$580 million).

But the cost wasn’t just monetary. The Associated Press reported that farmers and officials were forced to kill more than 175,000 of the country’s cattle population of 10 million to ensure the disease didn’t spread. Cattle ranchers had to cull both infected cattle and healthy cows that lived on a lot where they found the disease in the grueling process.  

For a country where cattle populations outnumber people and farming is the foundation of the economy, government officials decided to go all-in to get rid of the disease. 

As reported by Bloomberg, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said in a statement that the country took a shot to eradicate the disease to protect the nation’s herd, its communities and its economy—a process that was only accomplished through huge amounts of dedication across the board. 

“I want to acknowledge how tough it’s been for those farmers who have lost their herds and stock genetics built up over decades,” said Ardern. “No one in the world had attempted to eradicate M. bovis before, and if we were going to try something that had never been done, we needed to do so together.”

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