Welcome to the Cheat Sheet, a clickable, shareable, bite-sized FAQ on the news of the moment. Today, what mycoplasma bovis means for our beef and dairy industry.
What’s all this about then?
Tens of thousands of cows will be culled, mostly in the South Island, to deal with an outbreak of mycoplasma bovis. The cattle disease can cause cows to be much more susceptible to other nasty conditions, like arthritis and mastitis.
It was first found in New Zealand in the middle of last year, on a farm in South Canterbury. Since then it has spread to 28 farms – the vast majority of which are in the South Island. And on those farms there are about 22,000 cows, and all of them are getting the chop.
How did it get to New Zealand?
It’s not quite clear, but the fact that it got to New Zealand at all is noteworthy. This clearly moribund and weirdly worded Wikipedia page gives you an idea of just how unusual New Zealand has been regarding this disease.
So will there be great pyres of burning cow carcasses scattered across the fields, like what happened with foot and mouth and mad cow disease?
Actually, probably not. The culled cows will probably be sent to the abattoir.
But that’s where cows go when they’re going to be eaten?
We’re going to be eating tainted meat?
Not really, no. There’s no risk to people who eat cows, or drink milk from cows, that have had mycoplasma bovis. It can only be spread cow to cow, and can’t even be spread by wind or running water. So tuck in!
Still sounds gross. How long do I have before going vegan?
There really is no need to tell us about that, and try to spare a thought for the cows who are now on death row. They won’t be slaughtered immediately, given the difficulty of processing so much beef through the slaughterhouse system, but it will all need to happen by the first of June.
What’s important about that day?
The first of June in New Zealand dairy farming is the somewhat anachronistically named Gypsy Day. It’s effectively the great moving day for dairy farmers – animals get moved, equipment gets moved, and it’s even the day that some farm workers and their families move. Because of the way mycoplasma bovis spreads, it would be a terrible idea to have a whole lot of potentially infected animals on the move at the same time.
So if we can eat it, what’s the problem?
Like other diseases that affect farm animals, mycoplasma bovis can have a huge impact on herd health, and subsequently how much meat and milk they produce. The economic impacts of this outbreak are estimated by the Ministry of Primary Industries to be about $400 million, including compensation for farmers that have to kill their cows.
It could also harm New Zealand’s international reputation as being clean and green (ha!) and disease free.
The last word:
Here’s hoping the price of steak comes down in about three months.
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