Bovine tuberculosis (TB) is an infectious disease caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium bovis. As well as being dangerous for animals, it can also affect humans. In many parts of the developing world, it has a major impact on human health.

What you need to know

  • Bovine TB is an infectious disease caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium bovis. It can affect a wide range of animals. In New Zealand, cattle and deer are the farm livestock species at greatest risk of contracting the disease.
  • Possums are the main wildlife vectors (carriers) of bovine TB in New Zealand. Contact with infected possums is a major cause of herd infection. Ferrets can also cause livestock infection in some areas. Other wildlife such as deer and pigs can get TB (usually from possums) but are also more likely to be dead-end hosts.
  • Eradicating TB is vital to maintaining the production and reputation of our valuable dairy, beef and deer export industries, and benefits all New Zealanders.
  • OSPRI’s TBfree programme involves nationwide livestock testing, movement control and targeted wildlife pest control to eliminate the disease. We aim to eradicate the disease from livestock by 2026, from possums by 2040 and from all species in New Zealand by 2055.
  • Around 3.5 million TB tests are carried out on cattle and deer every year, and suspected infected animals are slaughtered.
  • To control the spread of the disease all herds must be registered, and stock tagged correctly. The NAIT system provides important information to help manage and control TB in livestock.
  • To stop possums and ferrets from carrying TB and spreading the disease to cattle and deer, we survey and control wild animals across large areas of private and public land.
  • The combination of wildlife control, livestock movement restrictions and effective disease management has led to a drop in infected herd numbers from 1700 in the mid-1990s to 53 in June 2017.
  • As of 2017, we consider that infected possums are likely to be present across about 8 million hectares in various parts of New Zealand (classified as Vector Risk Areas). The TB plan requires eradication of TB from all wildlife in these areas by 2040.
  • The TBfree programme invests in research to continually improve how the disease is diagnosed and the methods used to control pests.
  • Everyone can help make New Zealand TB-free. Supporting our world-class programme of disease management, movement control, pest control and research, and ensuring all livestock are registered, tagged and tracked under the NAIT programme, can help make TB history.