Landcare Research - Manaaki Whenua

Landcare-Research -Manaaki Whenua

Editorial — The Benefits of Applied Research

Cattle at a feed trough near Lake Taupo – Caroline Thomson

Cattle at a feed trough near Lake Taupo – Caroline Thomson

When the results of applied research are made available to end users and beneficiaries, the impact can be profound.

Take, for example, bovine tuberculosis (TB). When I was a newly-trained veterinarian in the early 1970s, in the area where I practiced it was common for up to 60% of dairy cattle to react positively to their first caudal fold skin test (an indication of exposure to TB). More significantly, the disease was a significant disease of morbidity in young rural children who drank unpasteurised milk.

Nowadays TB is controlled under the Biosecurity Act, initially via the Animal Health Board, now OSPRI (TBFree New Zealand). Under the Act, the National Bovine TB Pest Management Plan (NPMP) must be reviewed periodically. Typically, such reviews have been undertaken every five years. However, the latest proposed plan runs for 10 years, with a recommendation to extend it beyond that time.

In early 2015 a group comprising independents (including the groups Chair), stakeholders (Federated Farmers and OSPRI) and funders (Crown, Dairy New Zealand, Deer New Zealand, and Beef & Lamb), convened the Plan Governance Group (PGG) to review the existing NPMP and recommend the adoption of the amended plan.

The proposed plan recommends, for the first time, adopting the goal of nation-wide biological eradication of TB from New Zealand. It proposes the following objectives:

  1. Biological eradication of TB from New Zealand by 2055, with the key milestones of
    • TB freedom in livestock by 2026
    • Effective TB freedom in possums by 2040 (statistical freedom)
    • Complete biological eradication after 12–15 years, following low level monitoring and verification.
  1. Ensuring the affected herds’ annual period prevalence stays at or below 0.2% on average throughout the plan.

Over the past years there has been much excellent research targeted at TB in New Zealand, particularly on the role that possums and other feral animals play in the spread of this disease. Recently, much of that work has been published in a special issue of the New Zealand Veterinary Journal (TB in Livestock, published July 2015) and in this edition of Kararehe Kino.

The work of people such as Graham Nugent, Paul Livingstone (TBFree New Zealand), Phil Cowan, Frank Cross, Bruce Warburton, Dean Anderson and others has made significant contributions to advancing our knowledge.

The PGG, in reviewing the NPMP, faced a dilemma:

  • The incidence of TB in livestock has been reduced to very low levels and, since milk is generally pasteurised and meat is cooked, was TB still a problem?
  • The various funding agencies were all facing significant budgetary challenges and regional councils did not believe they should be funding at the same level as previously.
  • With continued commitment, the prospect of eradication was tantalisingly close.

As part of the review process, the PGG commissioned two science reviews. The first was to answer the question ‘was eradication of TB from New Zealand scientifically possible and financially feasible?’ The second was to review the role of vector-to-livestock and livestock-to-livestock spread of TB, the role of livestock movements, and the feasibility of elimination of TB from the vector risk areas. Finally, when it was agreed that livestock-to-livestock spread is now significantly important, the NPMP detailed the importance of traceability through the National Animal Identification and Traceability system (NAIT), now part of OSPRI, to fulfilling the objectives of the draft plan.

When (not if) TB becomes a disease exotic to New Zealand, this country will owe a debt of gratitude to the authors of the papers in this edition of Kararehe Kino.

Chris Kelly, Chair PGG