About the bovine semen testing project
Imported semen has been identified as a way that Mycoplasma bovis (M. bovis) might have entered New Zealand.
Consequently, the M. bovis Eradication Programme partners are implementing a testing project for bovine semen imported into the country before May 2022.
Imports after that date are not included because in May 2022, a new Bovine Germplasm Import Health Standard (IHS) took effect. The new IHS provides improved risk management.
Semen straws must be supplied for testing unless exempt
The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) issued a Notice of Direction under section 121 of the Biosecurity Act 1993 on 20 June 2023.
This notice applies to anyone who has bovine semen that was imported into New Zealand before 1 May 2022.
Under the notice, they must supply 2 straws of semen for testing from all eligible batches they hold, including semen held on behalf of clients.
There is one exception. No straws need to be supplied, if the semen has been treated with antibiotics in compliance with the Certified Semen Services (CSS) minimum requirements for disease control of semen produced for artificial insemination [PDF, 394KB]
Research has shown the CSS protocol is more effective at preventing M. bovis than other antibiotic treatments for semen. Therefore, batches of semen treated according to this protocol – including all semen exported from the USA since 1990 – do not need to be tested.
Testing of the semen straws
Semen straws will be tested by a validated polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test for the presence of M. bovis DNA. This is the same test approved for use on pre-import batches of bovine semen since May 2022, as specified in the Import Health Standard.
Semen importers are communicating with their clients and coordinating the testing process with the MPI-contracted laboratory. Farmers with eligible imported semen in storage will be required by June 2024 to either:
- approve the submission of straws for PCR testing, or
- opt to destroy unused straws.
Why we are testing imported bovine semen
In September 2022, a farm was confirmed to be infected with a new strain of M. bovis that had not previously been found in New Zealand.
MPI believes semen was the most likely infection pathway, as other pathways were ruled out early into the investigation.
Cattle on this farm were inseminated with batches of semen that – while compliant with the IHS in force at the time of importation – did not meet the current IHS and were not treated using the CSS protocol. Although no live M. bovis bacteria could be cultured from the remaining straws of the batches used, molecular genetics indicate that the DNA from the straws is consistent with the strain of M. bovis recovered from the cattle.
Government and industry have invested heavily in the effort to eradicate M. bovis from New Zealand. More than $600 million has been spent, and 280 farms across the country have had to cull their herds. Some farmers have lost generations of genetics and are now in the process of rebuilding their herds. At this end stage in the eradication journey, it is important any remaining areas of risk are addressed.
New Zealand has been importing bovine semen for decades and MPI assesses the M. bovis introduction risk of imported bovine semen as low due to required antibiotic treatments. With the strengthened IHS in place, the risk is now even lower. However, low risk is not the same as zero risk.
A significant amount of semen imported prior to the IHS change is still available for use. This has prompted the M. bovis Eradication Programme to apply the same, or similar, level of assurance provided by the new IHS to all imported semen in New Zealand.
You can apply for compensation
Compensation can be claimed for losses (for example, the value of the straws used for testing) caused by the exercise of the Biosecurity Act powers.
If you have any questions about compensation for the value of the tested straws, email CompensationCoordinator@mpi.govt.nz
Who to contact
For more information or questions about the M. bovis imported bovine semen project, email GermplasmImporters@mpi.govt.nz