Roger Smith: No lack of transparency on M bovis response

Readers of the Herald will be well used to Rachel Stewart’s comments. But they should not mistake them for robust or balanced analysis when it comes to her piece on the very serious cattle disease Mycoplasma bovis.

Her commentary loses credibility after the first sentence: “What’s really happening with the spread of the cattle disease … is about as transparent as a plane-grounding Wellington fog.”

This statement is difficult to justify. The Ministry for Primary Industries and farming industry organisations have shared masses of information with dairy and beef farmers and the general public. We have been involved in nearly 70 town hall meetings with farmers, issued countless media releases, undertaken countless more interviews, shared data and analysis via our website and so on.

Not only are DairyNZ and Beef+Lamb New Zealand involved in the response, they are partners at the decision-making table. Federated Farmers has been a critical contributor, as has Dairy Companies Association of New Zealand and the Meat Industry Association.

Yes, Mycoplasma bovis presents us and farmers with a tough situation and, yes, there are tough decisions that will have tough consequences. But there is no lack of transparency.

Stewart referred to other biosecurity incursions. Every incursion of an unwanted organism into New Zealand is deeply disappointing. To think that we can be 100 per cent impervious, without closing our borders to trade and travel, is just wrong. Responding to incursions has to be a key part of our biosecurity system. Eradication is often the preferred outcome but it is not always practically possible. Take myrtle rust, the main vector of which is the wind. No one has found a way to stop the wind.

She also failed to balance her opinion with any case studies such as the three incursions of Queensland fruit fly that have been eradicated in recent years. Nor the stellar success of the long-term programme that has us on the verge of eradicating bovine TB.

New Zealand is very well served by its biosecurity system. MPI and Biosecurity New Zealand play an important part in that, but so does every international traveller who declares or disposes of risk goods before they come across the border.

Contrasting with Stewart’s column was your editorial (Fast spread of disease $60m wake-up call) published on the same day. This was balanced and well thought through. It reaches a conclusion that changes to our farming systems are required post Mycoplasma bovis – no matter what the outcome of the response – in particular to “dispel a casual approach to biosecurity”. In fact, we hope this is a lesson that all our primary industries, and indeed all New Zealanders, might learn. Biosecurity is everybody’s responsibility.

On this note, the editorial does say that the Ministry for Primary Industries has been managing the Mycoplasma bovis response. We want to stress that we have done this for farmers in partnership with industry organisations earlier mentioned. They have been invaluable participants, and they will be invaluable, as the editorial suggests, in implementing whatever solution is found for Mycoplasma bovis, be it eradication or management.

Roger Smith is MPI chief operations officer and head of Biosecurity New Zealand.

By: Roger Smith

Source: NZ Herald

Link: https://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=12055295

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