Massey University appointed to research M. bovis impacts on infected animals

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Media contact: MPI media team
Telephone: 029 894 0328

The Mycoplasma bovis Programme (the Ministry for Primary Industries, DairyNZ, and Beef + Lamb New Zealand) has appointed Massey University to undertake research into the direct impacts of the cattle disease as part of efforts to help accelerate its eradication.

"Massey University researchers will investigate the impact of M. bovis on individual animals and herds within farms known to be infected with the disease," said Dr John Roche, MPI chief science advisor and chair of the M. bovis Strategic Science Advisory Group (SSAG).

"They will measure how M. bovis affects infected animals and herds, including any physical signs, effects on milk yield and composition, and the duration of these effects."

Dr Roche says this will help accelerate eradication of the disease from New Zealand farms and minimise the negative impacts.

"The results of this project will contribute evidence to help in the detection of M. bovis, improve our surveillance tools, and increase our understanding of how the disease spreads under different New Zealand farming systems, which is key in terms of eradication. It will also help us to quantify the impacts, which supports some of the recommendations made in a recent Technical Advisory Group report."

The study is expected to take 1 to 2 years. Only properties already known to be positive for M. bovis will be used. No cattle will be intentionally infected, and properties will only be studied up until agreed dates for depopulation.

New Zealand is the first country in the world to attempt to eradicate M. bovis, a bacterial disease that can cause animal welfare and productivity issues, particularly in dairy cattle, including mastitis that doesn’t respond to treatment, severe lameness, and late-term abortions.

Dr Roche says the direct impacts study was identified as a priority in the M. bovis science plan, developed by the SSAG to help accelerate eradication of the disease in New Zealand. The M. bovis Programme has allocated up to $30 million for M. bovis research projects, guided by the science plan.

M. bovis science plan [PDF, 1.2 MB]

Massey University was appointed after a competitive tender process.


Questions and answers

What is the purpose of this study?

The purpose of the study is to understand the impacts of the M. bovis infection on individual animals and herds to further our understanding of the disease across different farming systems in the New Zealand environment.

The results will contribute valuable scientific evidence to help in the detection of the disease, improve our surveillance tools, and increase our understanding of how the disease spreads under different New Zealand farming systems. This is key in terms of eradication.

How was Massey University selected?

This project went out to market as a competitive tender. The quotes were evaluated by an evaluation panel, which included representatives from MPI, DairyNZ, and Beef + Lamb New Zealand. Evaluation panel members included scientists, and biosecurity and animal welfare experts.

How long will the study take?

It is expected to take 1 to 2 years.

Won't M. bovis be eradicated by then?

While we expect to have found the majority of infected properties by the end of 2020, we also anticipate a long period of surveillance to ensure it is gone. It is important that we keep developing the science to ensure we have all the tools we need in the long term.

Will it cause any harm to the animals?

Only properties already known to be positive for M. bovis will be used in the study. No cattle will be intentionally infected, and properties will only be studied up until agreed dates for depopulation.

How many animals and herds will be part of the study?

It will be up to Massey University researchers to design the study, but it will encompass the different farming systems so the findings can be quantified and compared. Researchers will be required to work closely with the M. bovis Programme to identify suitable farms to study.

What do we know about the direct impact of this disease on animals?

We know from international research that the M. bovis bacterium can cause a range of serious conditions in cattle, including mastitis that doesn’t respond to treatment, pneumonia, arthritis, and late-term abortions.

The disease may be dormant in an animal, causing no signs at all. But in times of stress (for example, calving, drying-off, transporting, or being exposed to extreme weather) the animal may become sick and/or shed bacteria in milk and nasal secretions and infect other animals.

This research project, identified as a priority in the M. bovis science plan, will provide scientific evidence to quantify the direct impact of M. bovis on animals in the New Zealand farming environment – something we don’t currently have a comprehensive understanding of. The more we know the better.

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