​Undervaluing biosecurity represents a serious threat to our primary industries

The occurrence of Mycoplasma bovis ( M. bovis) has been a devastating blow to our dairy and beef farmers, and represents a serious biosecurity wake-up call for our primary industries. In response to the M. bovis outbreak, the Government and farming sector group leaders recently announced their agreement to attempt the eradicate the cattle disease from New Zealand in order to protect the national herd and the long-term productivity of the farming sector. This decision has been taken while there remains a chance to get rid of the disease.

The full cost of phased eradication over 10 years is projected at $886 million. Of this, $16 million is loss of production and is borne by farmers and $870 million is the cost of the response, including compensation to farmers. Most of the eradication work is expected to occur in one to two years. Government will meet 68% of this cost and DairyNZ and Beef+Lamb New Zealand the remainder.

We should not underestimate how challenging it will be to eradicate M.bovis as it is a difficult disease to diagnose and control. This has been made worst by inaccurate record keeping of animal movements within NAIT, particularly where farm-to-farm animal transactions are involved.

Speculation still abounds on how M. bovis entered the country. The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) are vigorously trying to determine how this biosecurity breach occurred and I, like everyone else, hope they are successful in identifying the pathway for the incursion of the disease into New Zealand farms.

Any biosecurity threat such as M. bovis represents a significant challenge to the primary industries. It is with disconcerting regularity that we seem to be seeing more and more biosecurity breaches in New Zealand. As recently as last month the invasive weed great willowherb was found growing in several areas in Canterbury. Twelve months before that myrtle rust, first discovered in Kerikeri, has spread to well over 540 infected sites across the North Island and now the top of the South Island.

It doesn't seem that long ago that the kiwifruit industry faced turmoil with its own biosecurity breach through the discovery of the Pseudomonas syringae pv . actinidiae (Psa) bacteria, which causes the death of kiwifruit vines. While the kiwifruit industry is a shining light on how to effectively respond to a biosecurity threat and come out the other side in an even stronger position as an industry, this may be difficult to replicate when farming under different biological systems and industry structures.

The ability to stop biosecurity incursions is extremely problematic, and in some respects made more difficult by our position as a highly trade-dependent economy. New Zealand has one of the most open market economies in the world with its involvement in the free flow of goods among a wide range of trading nations.

We are also seeing greater movements of people through our borders. Close to 3.8 million international visitor arrivals were reported in the year ended April 2018, and is expected to increase to 5.1 million by 2024. Trips abroad by New Zealanders were 2.9 million to the year ended April 2018 (MBIE: Key Tourism Statistics). Given the size of our population it is staggering to think that 6.7 million passengers were counted travelling in and out of New Zealand over this period.

The freedom of movement of goods and the increasing number of people crossing our borders does increase New Zealand's primary industries exposure to ongoing biosecurity threats in the future. This reinforces the fact that there is no such thing as zero risk, and that we must always be vigilant of such threats and ensure good processes are followed.

Farmer expectations around on-farm biosecurity have certainly heightened since M. bovis was first identified. As mentioned in The Journal article (June 2018) by veterinarian Ashleigh Dobson, rural professionals should consider their role in minimising the risks of spreading diseases when planning farm visits, such as arranging visits in advance, staying on the main tracks, maintaining clean boots and equipment, and using on-farm cleaning and disinfection treatments. Other useful tips are available on DairyNZ's website.

Rural professionals also have an important role in monitoring and reporting possible biosecurity incursions, particularly when they come across unidentified invasive plants/weeds, unfamiliar insects and unknown diseases, etc. So while there is certainly an elevated awareness about biosecurity matters at the moment, we should not lose sight of or grow complacent about biosecurity threats lurking around the corner.