Science group to help Mycoplasma bovis eradication efforts

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A science advisory group has been formed to strengthen current efforts to eradicate Mycoplasma bovis (M. bovis), and met for the first time on 31July 2018.

Members of the newly-formed M. bovis Strategic Science Advisory Group (the advisory group) will provide high-level strategic scientific advice to the Mycoplasma bovis Governance Group. Science continues to be critical to the M. bovis response, and the advisory group will be a valuable resource to enable current science activities to be scaled up and expanded.

"The advisory group will ensure we have on-going access to some of the best minds and knowledge relating to M. bovis, which will bolster the eradication effort,” says Roger Smith, head of Biosecurity New Zealand and chair of the Mycoplasma bovis Governance Group.

The advisory group involves a range of relevant expertise from New Zealand and internationally.

They will contribute their expertise on a range of science matters, including:

  • identifying any critical knowledge gaps and ways to address them, including considering emerging technologies and ideas that may help eradicate M. bovis
  • prioritisation of M. bovis research efforts
  • coordination of current and future science initiatives relating to M. bovis
  • learning from other research programmes in New Zealand and internationally
  • providing assurance that M. bovis eradication research efforts remain fit for purpose.

"The members of the advisory group understand this is an unsettling time for many farmers and are moving quickly. They held their second meeting this week to start the development of their detailed work plan to shape the long-term science strategy,” says Dr John Roche, chair of the advisory group, and the Ministry for Primary Industries’ departmental science adviser.

"The group has already identified some key priorities for immediate work, and will hold a workshop in September to get wider input into developing the broader science plan," says Dr Roche.

"Scientific research is a vital part of our efforts to eradicate M. bovis." says Mr Smith.

Advisory group members

John Roche – departmental science adviser, MPI (Chair).

Glenn Browning – professor, director, Asia-Pacific Centre for Animal Health, Faculty of Veterinary and Agricultural Sciences, University of Melbourne, Australia.

Hamish Gow – professor of agribusiness, Massey University.

Nigel French – distinguished professor, executive director of the Infectious Disease Research Centre, Massey University.

Axel Heiser – senior scientist, immunology, AgResearch.

William McMillan – independent agri-business consultant and scientist; Kaiārahi Ahuwhenua, Federation of Māori Authorities.

Trish McIntosh – director, North Canterbury Vets.

Roger Ayling – private consultant with extensive M. bovis research experience, United Kingdom.

Cameron Stewart – research scientist, Disease Prevention and Detection, CSIRO.

James Turner – resource economist and senior social scientist, AgResearch.

Shaun Hendy – director, Te Pūnaha Matatini, University of Auckland, complex systems, networks, and mathematical modelling.

Prue Williams – general manager Science System Investment and Performance, MBIE.

Veronica Herrera – director, Diagnostics and Surveillance Services, MPI.

Background to Mycoplasma bovis

Mycoplasma bovis is a bacterium that 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 symptoms at all. But in times of stress (for example, calving, drying-off, transporting, or being exposed to extreme weather), the animal may shed bacteria in milk and nasal secretions. As a result, other animals may be infected and become ill or carriers themselves. The disease does not pose a health risk for humans.

This is the first time it has been found in New Zealand. The bacteria is an Unwanted Organism under the Biosecurity Act 1993.

As at 7 August 2018, the disease is still not widespread (37 confirmed infected farms) and there is just one strain of the disease here.

Mycoplasma bovis eradication decision

On 28 May 2018, it was announced that the Government, along with the dairy and beef industries, agreed that an attempt will be made to eradicate Mycoplasma bovis. This means we're trying to completely get rid of Mycoplasma bovis from New Zealand's dairy and beef herds.  Science is a key part of this. The Government is investing $30 million over 2 years in scientific research to support the fight against Mycoplasma bovis.

DairyNZ, Federated Farmers, and Beef+Lamb New Zealand support MPI's decisions. They also recognise that this is a difficult time for the farmers involved.

The industry organisations believe that the measures are necessary to protect all New Zealand cattle farms from the disease. New Zealand is one of the few countries where Mycoplasma bovis is not found naturally. Because of this, the industry groups support measures to keep it that way.


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