New Zealand forced to slaughter 150,000 cows

Agriculture and Biosecurity Minister Damien O'Connor speaks with Southland Rural Support Trust chairman John Kennedy

The government and agricultural leaders announced Monday that it will spend over $600 million over the next decade to rid the country of Mycoplasma bovis, which causes udder infections, pneumonia, arthritis and other illnesses. They are not considered a threat to food safety, but do cause production losses on farms.

One of the first farmers to find his herd with Mycoplasma bovis infected says MPI needs to speed up the culling of infected cows. They say numerous cows will be slaughtered at processing plants and used for beef, but some cows will have to be killed and buried on the farms or dumped in approved landfills. She said they would try to make sure affected farmers had all the support they needed, including adequate compensation.

"This is a tough time, and the pain and anguish [affected farmers] are going to go through is really ugly", she said. "And we have to support them as neighbours, community members, farmers, friends".

FILE PHOTO: Clouds gather above a cow as it grazes in a drought-effected paddock on the outskirts of the New Zealand town of Blenheim, located in the south island's Marlborough district March 12, 2013. "We have a real chance of eradication to protect our more than 20,000 dairy and beef farms, but only if we act now".

"Over 99 percent of our dairy herds in New Zealand have no signs of this disease, and we want to keep it that way", said Jim van der Poel, DairyNZ chair.

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Ardern said today's decision will provide farmers with some certainty, but recognizes how painful a loss this is for farmers who are directly affected.

Mycoplasma Bovis has been found on about 40 farms so far but the government believes 192 properties will eventually be involved in the cull. Officials are still trying to figure out the bacteria got into the country despite strict biosecurity controls.

New Zealand has already culled 26,000 cattle in the 10 months since the disease was discovered.

The decision, dubbed "phased eradication", was made collectively by the government and farming sector bodies and the estimated cost is $886 million over 10 years. The government plans to pick up about two-thirds of the tab while farmers and the cattle industry will pay the rest.

"But the alternative is the spread of the disease across our national herd", Ardern said, adding that it was vital to protect farming, a key sector of New Zealand's economy.

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