WELLINGTON, New Zealand – New Zealand plans to kill about 150,000 cows while trying to eliminate a number of disease-causing bacteria from the national herd.
Politicians and industry leaders announced the ambitious plan on Monday. They say it will cost hundreds of millions of dollars, and if successful, it would be the first time an infected country eliminates Mycoplasma bovis.
Agriculture is vital to the economy in New Zealand, whose isolation has protected from some diseases that affect herds elsewhere.
Last July, Mycoplasma bovis was first found in the country. The bacteria in Europe and the US can cause cows to develop mastitis, pneumonia, arthritis and other diseases. They are not considered a threat to food safety, but lead to production losses.
Officials say they plan to kill all cows on all farms where the bacteria are found, even if some of the animals are healthy. They say that many of the cows are slaughtered in processing plants and used for beef, but some cows have to be killed and buried on farms or dumped on approved landfills.
Officials have the legal authority to violently invade farms and kill animals, even in cases where a farmer could oppose, but they said they hope they do not need those forces.
Katie Milne, the national president of the advocacy group Federated Farmers, said it was important to try to get rid of Mycoplasma bovis while there was still a chance. She said they would try to ensure that the affected farmers received the necessary support, including adequate compensation.
"This is a difficult time, and the pains and fears that they are going through are truly abominable," she told the affected farmers. "And we have to support them as neighbors, parishioners, peasants, friends."
New Zealand is home to about 10 million cows, about twice as many people. About two-thirds are dairy cows and the remainder cattle. Dairy products represent the country's largest single export, and much of it is sold to China and used in baby food.
Mycoplasma bovis has so far been found on 38 farms across New Zealand, a number that they expect to raise at least 142 farms based on computer modeling. They say that all the infections found so far are due to a single farm and that the bacteria probably arrived in New Zealand 18 months before their first discovery. Officials are still trying to figure out how the bacteria came in despite strict biosafety controls.
About 24,000 cows have been killed in recent months and at least 128,000 are still to be killed in the next year or two. The cost of the eradication program is estimated at 886 million New Zealand dollars ($ 616 million) in ten years. The government plans to take over two thirds of the tab, while farmers and livestock will pay the rest.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she believes that it is still possible to eradicate Mycoplasma bovis.
In the long run, I know what impact this could have on an industry that is very important to the New Zealand economy, "she said," so if we have the chance to be the country that is eradicating the disease , then we will take it. "
Officials expect them to know by the end of the year if the repayment plan works.
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