The Government was enjoying support from National and usually conservative farming leaders last night over its decision to try and eradicate Mycoplasma Bovis.
In a way, it is Jacinda Ardern’s Canterbury earthquake (albeit on a much smaller scale); the moment when she acts as Prime Minister rather than Leader of the Labour Party.
To try and eradicate the disease, it is expected that 126,000 cattle will have to be slaughtered over the next two years.
Compensation for the slaughtered cattle this financial year will cost the taxpayer $180 million and another $241 million over the next ten years.
Over and above that, the eradication programme is expected to cost the Government another $170 million over the next ten years.
“We’ve always acknowledged that we were prepared for a rainy day for issues just like this; for issues of national security, bio-security,” said Ardern.
“That is why you saw us deliver a budget which was prepared to deal with issues like this.
“We were prepared for this.
“We prepared a budget which was able to carry the load of an incident like this.”
The former Agriculture Minister, National MP, Nathan Guy, last night said he was pleased the decision would bring “a significant level of certainty to the farmers around the country.”
“This disease has caused enormous stress and anxiety for farming families.
“The financial and emotional toll on farmers has been significant, and the Rural Support Trust has done an outstanding job supporting those in need.
“I’m pleased that everyone now has a clear pathway forward on an issue that is now bigger than politics.”
Guy’s support was echoed by Federated Farmers.
“Industry has always, from the beginning of this, been committed to working with the government to eradicate, if the science said it was feasible,” said the Feds’ President, Katie Milne who sat alongside Ardern at the media conference announcing the decision.
“Federated Farmers believes getting rid of this insidious disease is preferable to living with it, for years on end, probably without any compensation available for farmers in future when it does hit and can’t be controlled.”
Ardern will today travel to a South Canterbury dairy farm which has infected stock. It will be her second trip to a dairy farm in five days.
If the Government has got the politics under control, eradicating the disease is still going to be problematical.
MPI’s Director Readiness and response (Biosecurity), Geoff Gwynn, said this spring would be critical when cows were back milking and back under stress which would be when the disease might be expected to appear.
But nevertheless, he was optimistic that New Zealand might succeed where other countries had failed and that eradication might be possible.
He said a key factor that encouraged this was that the disease had been caught early here. The first infestation is now thought to have been December 2015 or January 2016.
But what has now emerged is that all infected cattle are within one network where each can be traced, either directly or indirectly, to the Southland farm of Alfons Zeestraten.
In effect, unless a new outbreak not linked to Zeestraten is found, the disease is contained to cattle that can be traced through contacts to the Zeestraten farm.
“All the properties we have under regulatory control are linked by animal movements to each other; all of them are linked ultimately back to what we see as the primary property,” he said.
“That doesn’t mean that is the first property in New Zealand.
“It is the earliest example we have found at the moment.”
Asked if it was the Zeestraten farm, Gwynn confirmed that it was.
The Prime Minister said MPI was directly pursuing how the disease got into the country and whether it had been maliciously introduced.
“We have an expectation that they will pursue those who may have been involved with the original arrival of M Bovis in New Zealand,” she said.
“That is something that is happening in tandem.
“We are very focussed on eradication, but there is a range of ways that it could have come in.
“I wouldn’t want to prejudice any further investigation hut as I say MPI is working on it.”