Up to 150,000 New Zealand cattle will be culled as the government attempts to eradicate the disease Mycoplasma bovis.
‘This is a tough call - no-one ever wants to see mass culls,’ Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said in a statement on Monday.
The alternative was to risk the spread of the disease across the national herd of over 10 million cattle in more than 20,000 dairy and beef farms, she added.
The cull of around 126,000 cattle in 192 properties, in addition to cull of 26,000 already underway, will take place over the next 24 months. The full cost of eradication over 10 years is projected at 886 million New Zealand dollars (615 million dollars).
All farming lobby groups are supporting the decision.
There was no doubt the decision to attempt to eradicate Mycoplasma bovis from New Zealand was going to cause pain and anguish for more farmers, Federated Farmers president Katie Milne said.
‘But industry has always, from the beginning of this, been committed to working with the government to eradicate, if the science said it was feasible,’ she said.
The disease was first discovered in July on a farm on the South Island and has since spread to 37 farms around the country. Some 260 farms are suspected to harbour the disease as well.
An investigation into how the disease got into the country is still underway. It is unclear if it arrived through imported live cattle, frozen semen, embryos, veterinary medicines and biological products, feed, used farm equipment, or other imported live animals.
Farmers who have animals culled or their farm operations restricted will be eligible for compensation.
Mycoplasma bovis is a difficult disease to diagnose and to control, Agriculture and Biosecurity Minister Damien O'Connor said.
For this reason, it was possible that at some stage the government may have to let the fight go and learn to manage it in New Zealand herds, O'Connor said.
Mycoplasma bovis is a bacterium that causes diseases in cattle including udder infections, abortion, pneumonia and arthritis. Humans are not at risk of infection.
No country has managed to eradicate the disease so far. Until July New Zealand was one of only two major OECD dairying countries that were free of M. Bovis. Norway is now the only one.