Mycoplasma bovis

In July 2017, the bacterial infection Mycoplasma bovis was found in cattle in the Oamaru area of the South Island. With the support of farmers, industry bodies and local communities, MPI has been working hard to control the spread of the disease and, if possible, eradicate it from New Zealand.

On this page:

Situation report

Mycoplasma bovis was first confirmed in July 2017 on 2 farms in a 16-farm dairy enterprise in South Canterbury.

As at 18 January 2018, there are now 17 properties confirmed as positive for the disease. These are mainly in the Oamaru area with additional positive properties in Hawke’s Bay and Southland confirmed in December 2017. Another 2 properties were identified in the Ashburton area in January 2018.

All infected properties are under Restricted Place Notices under the Biosecurity Act. These legal controls restrict the movement of stock and equipment on and off those farms to contain the disease.

What is Mycoplasma bovis?

Mycoplasma bovis is a bacteria that can cause a range of quite serious symptoms in cattle including mastitis that doesn’t respond to treatment, pneumonia, arthritis and late-term abortions. It does not infect humans and presents no food safety risk. It is an animal welfare and productivity issue.

This is the first time it has been found in New Zealand. The bacteria is an Unwanted Organism under the Biosecurity Act 1993.

How is it spread?

On farm, Mycoplasma bovis is spread animal to animal through close contact and bodily fluids, for example, mucus and also milking equipment. Calves can be infected through drinking milk from infected cows.

Off farm, the disease is mostly spread through movement of cattle. Movement restrictions are therefore the most appropriate measures to contain this disease.

Mycoplasma bovis overseas

The disease is common internationally. Most other countries in the world, including developed countries in Europe, and the US, UK, Canada and Australia have Mycoplasma bovis in their normal cattle supply. Other countries successfully manage the disease.

Mycoplasma bovis is not listed with the OIE (the world animal health organisation) and does not present a trade risk for New Zealand animal products.

What farmers can do

Look out for signs of the disease:

  • unusual mastitis in cattle that doesn't respond to treatment
  • arthritis in cows and calves
  • late-term abortion
  • pneumonia in calves.

Not all infected animals get sick, but they can pass on the disease to other animals. Mycoplasma bovis spreads between animals through close contact.

If you see these signs in your animals, contact your veterinarian in the first instance, or MPI on 0800 80 99 66.

Mycoplasma bovis mainly affects cattle and has little effect on other production animals. It does not affect horses and pet animals.

 Practice good on-farm biosecurity

Keep NAIT and other animal movement records up to date

Accurate record-keeping is vital to track the spread of the disease and help control it. It is critical that you maintain up to date and accurate NAIT and animal movement records. 

Containing and reducing its spread

MPI, animal production industry bodies, and veterinarians are working together on a large-scale biosecurity response to the disease. When a new, unwanted pest or disease is discovered in New Zealand, MPI has powers under the Biosecurity Act to contain it and minimise its spread.

To control the disease, we've issued 2 types of notices to farms that are affected and farms that are suspected of being affected. The notices – Restricted Place Notices and Notices of Direction – are to restrict the movement of any risk goods, including animals, out of these properties. To make sure the requirements of the notices are followed, MPI follows up all incidents of non-compliance.

Restricted Place Notices

All infected farms have been placed under Restricted Place Notices (RPNs), legally preventing the movement of animals, equipment, and risk materials from these properties.

MPI is tracing movements of animals and other risk goods on and off the properties to find out if other farms are at risk.

More information on RPNs

Issued under section 130 of the Biosecurity Act 1993.

  • RPNs are issued to properties that have, or are suspected of having Mycoplasma bovis present.
  • The RPN prohibits all unauthorised movements of farm stock and other risk goods onto and off the property. This minimises the chance of the disease spreading from the property.
  • Any movement of cattle requires a permit from MPI.
  • Transport vehicles must follow a cleaning and disinfection process when they leave a restricted place.
  • Staff from AsureQuality (MPI's managing partner for biosecurity) are ensuring that cleaning, disinfecting, and permit requirements are complied with.

Notice of Direction (NoD)

Issued under section 122 of the Biosecurity Act 1993.

  • MPI issues NoDs to farms when an inspector or authorised person believes that movement of stock and other risk goods from a property poses a risk of spreading Mycoplasma bovis. For example, MPI may issue a NoD when animals from infected properties move to that property, but no testing has happened yet. We may also issue the NoD if test results are still pending.
  • The NoD aims to prevent further spread and doesn't restrict movement of stock or goods onto the farm.
  • Cattle can only move off the farm with a permit.
  • Other steps may be required (cleaning and disinfecting of vehicles).

Advice for farm service providers

Farmers should be using routine on-farm biosecurity practices to minimise risk to their animals. Service providers can help minimise risk by complying with the farm’s cleaning and disinfection requirements.

  • Don’t arrive unannounced. Let the farmer know you plan to visit their farm and ask their requirements.
  • Work with the farmer to comply with any farm biosecurity requirements.
  • Clean and disinfect footwear, protective clothing and equipment before coming on farm and again before leaving the farm.
  • Be proactive – assure farmers of your hygiene practices.

What should trucking companies be doing?

Trucking companies should work with the farmers to meet their hygiene requirements.

All the properties under a Restricted Place Notice require permits to move animals between properties and to slaughter. The permits require the truck to be cleaned and disinfected at the end of each movement.

Is it safe for tradies/truckies etc who come from affected farms to come to my farm?

It is absolutely safe for tradies/truckies to move from infected farms to other properties.

All infected farms are under strict legal controls under the Biosecurity Act. These controls include a comprehensive cleaning and disinfection protocol which has been provided to them by the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI). This protocol ensures that vehicles pose a negligible biosecurity risk.

All vehicles are being cleaned and disinfected on leaving the properties. Vehicles carrying animals – for example, transporters to the meat processing premises – are disinfecting on exit, going directly to the meat processor (not to other farms) and then being thoroughly cleaned and disinfected at the plant on completing the job.

Vehicles from neighbouring farms are not required to clean vehicles leaving their properties as the biosecurity risk is considered by MPI to be very small.

Testing and surveillance

A large surveillance and testing operation is underway to build a picture of where the disease is and how it should be managed. MPI is checking known infected farms, neighbours, and trace properties (farms where animals or risk goods have been moved from infected properties, or which have supplied animals to infected properties). MPI is also testing samples supplied through regional veterinary laboratories and Massey University and has worked with dairy companies to look at the milk from animals in the Waitaki and Waimate districts.

Mycoplasma bovis is a complicated disease to rule out and we need to have absolute confidence in any results we get. We have to be absolutely thorough in diagnosing positive and negative farms so we can give farmers and the New Zealand public certainty. This means test results can take time to analyse.

The samples we take can be either blood, milk, tissue or swabs. Each type of sample requires a different method of testing in the lab, adding to the complexity of the task at hand.

This is a tricky bacteria and while a positive result is a positive for the disease, a single negative result doesn’t mean a farm is in the clear. That is why we have to test multiple times over multiple weeks and months.

The tests we use

  1. The Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test looks for Mycoplasma bovis DNA in the sample. It tells us if the animal is shedding Mycoplasma bovis in its milk or from its nose. It is very sensitive and can detect minute quantities of Mycoplasma bovis. We have been using these tests to look for Mycoplasma bovis in milk and swabs.
  2. Blood sample testing looks to see if the cow’s immune system is responding to M bovis. This tells us if the animal has been exposed to Mycoplasma bovis in the past.

The process takes up to 7 days from taking the sample on-farm, to getting a result. However, given the scale of the testing we need to carry out – we are prioritising the samples in terms of the risk. Infected farms are our priority, as well as properties surrounding the farms.

We have many people in the field who are collecting samples, and we thank farmers and vets and AsureQuality for their work.

The testing approach

We are taking a multi-layer approach to testing to find out how widespread Mycoplasma bovis is. We are carrying out testing in the following categories:

  1. Infected farms - we first want to establish how far the disease has spread. 
  2. Bordering farms – to see if the disease has spread to neighbouring farms.
  3. Stock movements traces – like any farming business, stock are bought and sold frequently. We are identifying where stock may have gone to and come from so we can test those animals also.
  4. District-wide - We have tested bulk milk samples from the 2 districts surrounding the initial infection in Waimate and Waitaki.
  5. Nationwide testing – this is multi-layered. Firstly, any farmer who has contacted their vet about possible Mycoplasma bovis systems in their herds are tested. 

    Any mastitis milk samples that are sent to regional laboratories are being tested and we are surveying vets to ask them to identify farms with possible symptoms so we can bulk milk test 10 farms per region. A nationwide survey of farms has been done.

    MPI's laboratory - The National Animal Health Laboratory

    Given Mycoplasma bovis is an unwanted organism in New Zealand – the testing cannot be carried out in just any lab. It has to be done with a high level of security, after all, we don’t want to spread the disease around the country through the testing process. We do it in our PC3 lab in Wellington – which has a high level of containment and security. 

    Containment facilities that hold viruses and bacteria are approved according to an international scale called a physical containment, or PC, level. PC1 is the lowest containment level and is used for the safest bacteria and viruses, while PC4 is the highest.

    New Zealand has many PC1 and PC2 labs, a handful of PC3 labs and 1 lab – the high-containment lab at Wallaceville – is an enhanced PC3 lab. This is because it contains more safety measures than a standard PC3. It's the highest level of biocontainment approved in New Zealand.

    Culling animals to prevent further spread

    In October 2017, MPI made the decision to remove and cull animals from affected properties in the Oamaru area to prevent further spread of the disease. We made this decision after doing tens of thousands of tests.

    Around 5,000 cattle were culled with most of the cattle sent for slaughter, following standard practice. The operation was completed at the end of December 2017.

    All premises, transportation vehicles, and equipment involved in the de-population followed a strict decontamination and disinfection process to reduce any risk of the disease spreading.

    Post-cull activity

    A programme is now in place to decontaminate the affected farms and repopulate them. This process includes an initial clean-up and 2 rounds of disinfection with 14 days between rounds. Following this work, there will be a 60 day period where no cattle will be allowed on the farms (stand-down period). At the end of this 60 days we aim to get cattle back on the farms as quickly as possible.

    Surveillance, monitoring, and testing will keep happening as a protection measure.

    Industry support for de-population 

    DairyNZ, Federated Farmers, and Beef+Lamb New Zealand support MPI’s decisions. They also recognise that this is a difficult time for the farmers involved.

    The industry organisations believe that the measures are necessary to protect all New Zealand cattle farms from the disease. New Zealand is one of the few countries where Mycoplasma bovis is not found naturally. Because of this, the industry groups support measures to keep it that way.

    New finds in Southland and Hawke’s Bay in December 2017 

    We're still analysing what the discovery of positive properties in Southland and Hawke’s Bay means for the wider response. Our investigators are still building a picture of stock movements onto and off these farms and we will not be making hasty decisions on next steps.

    We need to understand the linkages of these new finds to the localised Oamaru infection and until we establish these impacts we won’t be culling any further herds.

    No food safety risk

    Mycoplasma bovis is not a food safety risk. It is a disease that affects animal welfare and production. It only affects bovines, including dairy cows and beef cattle. It is common in many food-producing nations (like Australia, the United States, and in Europe). In these nations, infected animals that aren’t showing symptoms are processed for human consumption.

    Most cattle that were slaughtered as part of the depopulation operation were processed. Before leaving the farm, the animals were assessed by veterinarians who confirmed they were fit for transport.

    At the processing plants, MPI veterinarians assessed the health of each animal before slaughter. As with standard process, any animals that were sick, severely injured or had any medication in their system were not processed for human consumption.

    This is a requirement of New Zealand law. All animals must also be examined after they’re slaughtered. This is to ensure the meat is safe and suitable for consumption.

    Pathways – how did it get to New Zealand?

    It is not known yet how or when Mycoplasma bovis entered New Zealand. As part of the response, MPI has investigated possible pathways for introduction to further inform decisions. We have investigated 7 pathways:

    1. Imported live cattle
    2. Imported frozen semen
    3. Imported embryos
    4. Imported veterinary medicines and biological products
    5. Imported feed
    6. Imported used farm equipment
    7. Other imported live animals 

    We have completed a report into potential pathways. It has been reviewed by an international technical advisory group to ensure the analysis is as robust as possible. We are currently incorporating their feedback into the report which will likely be released in January 2018.

    We have always said with this disease outbreak that it is unlikely we will be able to determine the exact pathway. We remain of that view – however, the report will give us good insight into pathway risk to support future management decisions.

    Welfare support

    MPI is working closely with industry organisations, the Rural Support Trust, and government agencies to support people who are most affected. We’ve prepared a fact sheet with information on looking after yourself if you’re affected by the Mycoplasma bovis outbreak.


    Affected farmers can claim compensation where MPI’s exercise of legal powers (under the Biosecurity Act 1993) has caused them a verifiable loss, either:

    • as a result of damage to or destruction of the person's property, or
    • as a result of restrictions imposed on the movement or disposal of the person's goods.

    Learn more about Biosecurity Act compensation
    Mycoplasma Bovis compensation claim form – User guide [PDF, 446 KB]


    Media releases

    15 November  8 November 12 October
    2 October
    8 September 29 August
    23 August 11 August 7 August
    4 August 1 August 31 July
    28 July 27 July 25 July

    DairyNZ resources

    Beef + Lamb NZ resources

    Who to contact

    If you have questions about Mycoplasma bovis:

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