Mycoplasma bovis

In July 2017, MPI detected the bacterial infection Mycoplasma bovis in cattle in the South Island. Find out about this disease and what we're doing to try to control its spread.


Background

Mycoplasma bovis is a bacterium that causes illness in cattle, including udder infection (mastitis), abortion, pneumonia, and arthritis. It does not infect humans and presents no food safety risk.

Mycoplasma bovis is common internationally and is present in most countries with animal production industries. It is not listed with the OIE (the world animal health organisation). It does not present a trade risk for New Zealand animal products.

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

The current situation

The disease was confirmed in July 2017 on 2 farms in a 16 farm dairy enterprise in South Canterbury.

There are now 12 properties in total confirmed as positive for the disease. All infected properties are under Restricted Place Notices under the Biosecurity Act. These legal controls restrict the movement of stock and equipment on and off those farms to contain the disease.

Containing and reducing its spread

MPI, animal production industry bodies, and veterinarians are working together on a large-scale biosecurity response to the disease. When a new, unwanted pest or disease is discovered in New Zealand, MPI has powers under the Biosecurity Act to contain it and minimise its spread.

To control the disease, we've issued 2 types of notices to farms that are affected. We've also issued the notices to farms that are suspected of being affected. To make sure the requirements of the notices are followed, MPI follows up all incidents of non-compliance.

Restricted Place Notices (RPNs)

All infected farms have been placed under Restricted Place Notices (RPNs), legally preventing the movement of animals, equipment, and risk materials from these properties.

MPI is tracing movements of animals and other risk goods on and off the properties to find out if other farms are at risk.

More information on Restricted Place Notices

Issued under section 130 of the Biosecurity Act 1993.

  • RPNs are issued to properties that have, or are suspected of having Mycoplasma bovis present.
  • The RPN prohibits all unauthorised movements of farm stock and other risk goods onto and off the property. This minimises the chance of the disease spreading from the property.
  • Any movement of cattle requires a permit from MPI.
  • Transport vehicles must follow a cleaning and disinfection process when they leave a restricted place.
  • Staff from AsureQuality (MPI's managing partner for biosecurity) are ensuring that cleaning, disinfecting, and permit requirements are complied with.

Notice of Direction (NoD)

Issued under section 122 of the Biosecurity Act 1993.

  • MPI issues NoDs to farms when an inspector or authorised person believes that movement of stock and other risk goods from a property poses a risk of spreading Mycoplasma bovis. For example, MPI may issue a NoD when animals from infected properties move to that property, but no testing has happened yet. We may also issue the NoD if test results are still pending.
  • The NoD aims to prevent further spread and doesn't restrict movement of stock or goods onto the farm.
  • Cattle can only move off the farm with a permit.
  • Other steps may be required (cleaning and disinfecting of vehicles).

Preventing further spread

In October, MPI made the decision to move forward with control measures to prevent further spread of the disease in the Oamaru area. 

We made this decision after doing tens of thousands of tests. We did testing:

  • of infected farms, neighbouring farms, and trace properties
  • throughout the Waimate district
  • throughout the Waitaki district
  • of bulk milk nationwide.

To prevent further spread of the disease, around 4,000 cattle are being culled. A programme is in place to decontaminate the properties and re-populate the farms.

We're still analysing what the discovery of positive properties in Southland and Hawkes Bay means for the wider response. Our investigators are building a picture of stock movements onto and off these farms so we will not be making hasty decisions on next steps.

The depopulation operation

Most of the cattle are being sent for slaughter, following standard practice. The operation will be completed by the end of December 2017.

All premises, transportation vehicles, and equipment involved in culling are following a strict decontamination and disinfection process. This will reduce the risk of the disease spreading.

Timeline for the operation

During October and November 2017, MPI will be working closely with animal industry organisations, the Rural Support Trust, and others. We’ll be working on supporting affected farmers.

We intend for the first stage of the process – removing the animals – to start after we consult with affected groups. Most of the cattle will be sent for slaughter, following standard practice.

All premises, transportation vehicles, and equipment involved in culling will follow a strict decontamination and disinfection process. This will reduce the risk of the disease spreading.

After depopulation

After the depopulation is complete, the infected places will go through the decontamination phase which includes an initial clean-up and 2 rounds of disinfection with 14 days between rounds. Following this work, there will be a 60 day period where no cattle will be allowed on the farms (stand-down period). At the end of this 60 days we aim to get cattle back on the farms as quickly as possible.

Surveillance, monitoring, and testing will keep happening as a protection measure.

Industry support for depopulation

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 protection measures are necessary for protecting New Zealand cattle farms against 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.

No food safety risk

Mycoplasma bovis is not a food safety risk. It is a disease that affects animal welfare and production. It only affects bovines, including dairy cows and beef cattle. It is common in many food producing nations (like Australia, the United States, and in Europe). In these nations, infected animals that aren’t showing symptoms are processed for human consumption.

Most cattle that we’re culling as part of the depopulation operation will be processed. Before they leave the farm, the animals will be assessed by veterinarians to confirm that they’re suitable for transport.

At the processing plants, MPI veterinarians will assess the health of each animal before they get slaughtered. Animals will not be killed for human consumption if they:

  • are sick
  • are severely injured
  • have medicine in their system.

This is a requirement of New Zealand law. All animals must also be examined after they’re slaughtered. This is to ensure the meat is safe and suitable for consumption.

We expect that some animals will be unsuitable for transport. These animals will have to be humanely euthanised on the farm. They’ll either be sold for pet food or disposed of.

Surveillance and testing

A large surveillance and testing operation is underway to build a picture of where the disease is and how it should be managed. MPI is checking the known infected farms, neighbours, and trace properties. MPI is also testing samples supplied through regional veterinary laboratories and Massey University. We're working with dairy companies to look at the milk from animals in the Waitaki and Waimate districts.

It is not known yet how or when Mycoplasma bovis entered New Zealand.

Presentation to farmers about the Mycloplasma bovis response operation [PDF, 853 KB]

Compensation

The affected farmers can apply for compensation for verifiable losses relating to MPI exercising legal powers under the Biosecurity Act. The Act is very clear that no one should be better or worse off as a result of the government exercising legal powers.

Welfare support

MPI is working closely with industry organisations, the Rural Support Trust, and government agencies to support people who are most affected. We’ve prepared a fact sheet with information on looking after yourself if you’re affected by the Mycoplasma bovis outbreak.

What farmers can do

Farmers should look out for:

  • unusual mastitis in cattle that doesn't respond to treatment
  • arthritis in cows and calves
  • late-term abortion
  • pneumonia in calves.

Not all infected animals get sick, but they can pass on the disease to other animals.  Mycoplasma bovis spreads between animals through close contact.

Farmers who see these signs in their stock should contact their veterinarian in the first instance or MPI on 0800 80 99 66.

Mycoplasma bovis mainly affects cattle and has little effect on other production animals. It does not affect horses and pet animals.

Advice for farm service providers

Farms should be using routine on-farm biosecurity practices to minimise risk to their animals. Service providers can help minimise risk by complying with the farm’s cleaning and disinfection requirements.

  • Don’t arrive unannounced. Let the farmer know you plan to visit their farm and ask their requirements.
  • Work with the farmer to comply with any farm biosecurity requirements.
  • Clean and disinfect footwear, protective clothing and equipment before coming on farm.
  • Be proactive, assure farmers of your hygiene practices.

What should trucking companies be doing?

Trucking companies should work with the farmers to meet their hygiene requirements.

All the properties under Restricted Place Notice require permits to move animals between properties in the VLDG and to slaughter. The permits requires that the truck is cleaned and disinfected at the end of each movement.

Is it safe for tradies/truckies etc who come from affected farms to come to my farm?

It is absolutely safe for tradies/truckies to come from infected farms to other properties.

All infected farms are under strict legal controls under the Biosecurity Act. These controls include a comprehensive cleaning and disinfection protocol which has been provided to them by the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI). This protocol ensures that vehicles pose a negligible biosecurity risk.

All vehicles are being cleaned and disinfected on leaving the properties. Vehicles carrying animals – for example transporters to the meat processing premises – are disinfecting on exit, going directly to the meat processor (not to other farms) and then being thoroughly cleaned and disinfected at the plant on completing the job.

Vehicles from neighbouring farms are not required to clean vehicles leaving their properties as the biosecurity risk is considered by MPI to be very small.

Resources

Media releases

15 November  
8 November 12 October
2 October 8 September
29 August 23 August
11 August 7 August
4 August 1 August
31 July 28 July
27 July 25 July

Dairy NZ resources

Beef + Lamb NZ resources

Who to contact

If you have questions about Mycoplasma bovis:

Last reviewed: | Has this been useful? Give us your feedback
Feedback