New Zealand, which produces three percent of the world’s milk, announced this week its plan to cull about 150,000 cows to eradicate the disease Mycoplasma bovis. The largest mass animal slaughter in the country’s history will cost some US$ 612 million. If successful, it would be the first time an infected country has eliminated the disease-causing bacteria.
The farming and government leaders have decided to spend the money in over 10 years in an attempt to prevent further spread of the disease which affects dairy cows.
Mycoplasma bovis was found in the country for the first time in July last year and it caused mastitis, pneumonia, arthritis and other diseases in cows. Though it causes production losses on farms, it is not considered a threat to food safety. The disease-causing bacterium is designed to live in cattle and does not tend to spread across species.
Officials are now planning to cull cows in farms where the bacteria are found. This is applicable even if some of the cows are healthy. While most of the cattle will be culled for beef at processing plants, others will be killed and buried in farms or dumped in landfills.
Officials said even if the farmers resist, they have the permission to forcibly enter the farms and kill the cows.
This is a tough time, and the pain and anguish they're going to go through is really hideous and we have to support them as neighbors, community members, farmers, friends,” said Katie Milne, the national president of the advocacy group Federated Farmers, ensuring that the affected farmers had all the support they needed, including adequate compensation, reported NZHerald.
“This is a tough call – no one ever wants to see mass culls. But the alternative is to risk the spread of the disease across our national herd. We have a real chance of eradication to protect our more than 20,000 dairy and beef farms, but only if we act now,” said Jacinda Ardern, prime minister of New Zealand, reported The Guardian.
“Speaking with affected farmers in recent weeks it is obvious that this has taken a toll, but standing back and allowing the disease to spread would simply create more anxiety for all farmers,” she added claiming that total eradication of the disease was possible as it was not yet widespread.
We don't know, in the long-term, what impact it could collectively have on an industry that is incredibly important to New Zealand's economy so if we have an opportunity to be the country that eradicates this disease, then we'll take it,” Ardern said.
Since its discovery, 26,000 cows have been slaughtered and the disease had been classified as active on 37 properties, a number that is expected to rise to at least 142 farms based on computer modeling.
New Zealand is the largest exporter of dairy in the world and home to around 10 million cows, about double its human population. About two-thirds of its cattle are dairy cows and the rest are beef cattle.