Get with the programme

MPI needs to up its game in th way the M.bovis programme is run and managed

NEARLY TWO years have passed since Mycoplasma bovis was first discovered on a dairy farm in South Canterbury.

This devastating disease has since severely impacted many farmers, their families and livelihoods.

Meanwhile, at the same time, both the dairy and beef sectors – working with the Government – agreed on eradication of the disease as the best way ahead for New Zealand.

NZ is the only country ever to try eradication and unfortunately many mistakes have been made. This has left many affected farmers frustrated, disillusioned and in some cases devastated.

MPI director-general Ray Smith has apologised to all farmers and he claims his organisation is working tirelessly to make the necessary improvements. But his apology will ring hollow unless his colleagues make these changes — fast!

Two reviews recently published throw light on the M. bovis eradication programme and the search-and-destroy ‘surge in activity’ that happened leading up to this year’s Moving Day. These expert reviews looked into the causes and impacts of the disease and recommended how the MPI programme could be improved.

One review was by MPI’s chief science advisor Dr John Roche, and the other – an independent review – was by a South Australia animal disease management expert, Dr Roger Paskin.

Roche’s review discovered a backlog due to poor management of the flow of information between functions, and in the disease management team’s structure and resourcing.

Paskin identified issues related to the eradication programme’s structure, staffing, training, management and supporting tools. The reviews’ findings, among other things, included:

•       A ‘silo type’ organisation structure which discouraged communication and collaboration across the response

•       A lack of a common data management platform across the response which led to valuable data not being shared

•       A cumbersome, centralised decisionmaking process that was slow and not well informed by local knowledge

•       Staff hastily recruited and sometimes lacking the skills, qualifications and experience to work efficiently in a disease response.

None of this will surprise the farmers dealing with MPI’s M. bovis team. The real surprise for most will be the time it has taken the powers to identify these issues and start fixing things.

The reports made 43 recommendations to improve the systems and processes in the M. bovis programme. These include greater regional decisionmaking, the importance of farmer involvement, and improving structures, systems and resourcing.

It is way past time for everybody involved and responsible for running and managing the M.bovis eradication programme to actually ‘get with the programme’. They must now move promptly, efficiently and comprehensively to enable all the affected farmers to get on with their lives.