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21/5/2018 — Economics, Politics and Government
Government should stop blame game
By Dene Mackenzie

The Government needs to stop the “blame game” and get on with the response to the spread of Mycoplasma bovis, according to Clutha-Southland MP Hamish Walker.

Walker, National's associate spokesman on agriculture, told the Otago Daily Times on Friday that farmers were looking for certainty as the new dairy season loomed in two weeks and thousands of dairy cattle were moved around the country.

“Many are now wondering whether eradication is feasible.”

Walker turned his attention to Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor who he accused of labelling farmers as greedy and blaming them for spreading the disease.

“It's clear the minister hasn't yet got Budget funding confirmed because his mates around the Cabinet table are looking to him to “heavy” the industry for upward of 40% of costs - over and above the 12% currently agreed in the Government Industry Agreement.”

What had become apparent was the Cabinet's “hostile attitude” towards farmers, he said.

Ministers appeared to forget some farmers were at financial and emotional breaking points dealing with the disease. Compensation payments had been occurring at a snail's pace.

O'Connor needed to show farmers whose livelihoods had been trashed by M bovis some respect by better communicating his plans for the response and ordering officials to ensure compensation payments were full, fair and fast, Walker said.

O'Connor announced last week work would start immediately to improve New Zealand's animal tracing system. The National Animal Identification and Tracing (Nait) system had let NZ down in a time of great need as the M bovis outbreak was managed.

Officials had worked through the 38 recommendations included in the year-late report on the system and had advised 23 could be implemented promptly by the management agency OSPRI, he said.

Hunting down of M bovis had been slowed by the poor uptake of Nait. For the minority of farmers who fully complied with Nait, the tracing of animals for M bovis had been smooth, the minister said.

Nait was hard to use and the farmers had not been told of the benefits of compliance.

The changes included:

• The Nait number will be assigned to a particular location, not to a person.

• The Nait interface will be improved to make it easier to enter information and a mobile app will be developed for use in the field.

• The performance of accredited agencies will be better managed, particularly those providing information to Nait on behalf of farmers.

Officials had been asked to take a tougher approach to Nait compliance, O'Connor said.

The Ministry for Primary Industries would work with OSPRI in a joint approach.

As an interim measure, MPI's animal welfare officers would carry out Nait enforcement as part of their regular farm visits.

“Farmers need to play their part by ensuring they meet their legal Nait obligations, especially with moving day upon us.”

However, Walker said O'Connor's comments blaming 70% of farmers for not complying with Nait, and saying many were selling stock on the black market because they were “greedy,” were symbolic of the Government's arrogant, dismissive attitude towards farmers.

*Dene Mackenzie is business editor of the Otago Daily Times.

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Dairy cattle strip grazing in the Waikato. Photo: Rob Suisted.