Eradicating TB

The current National TB Pest Management Plan (NPMP) aims to eradicate TB biologically from New Zealand by 2055. The milestones in the plan include cattle and deer being free of TB by 2026, and possums by 2040. Until the disease is eradicated, we aim to contain the disease in cattle and deer to a national infected herd period prevalence of no more than 0.2%.

Research strategy 2020 to 2024

In the past our research has been orientated towards acquiring knowledge through long-term projects. Because we aim to have cattle and deer free of TB by 2026, the emphasis will move to projects that have defined short-term outcomes that help us meet this goal.

Our research focus

Over the next 5 years we'll invest in research that fills gaps in our knowledge and capability. We plan to work closely with staff and external stakeholders to design research projects aimed at operational efficiencies and innovations. 

We plan to focus on:

  • finding better ways to understand how many possums are in an area, especially when numbers are low or the land is difficult to access — we need this information to decide what level of control is needed or if it can be declared free of disease
  • researching cost-effective alternatives to 1080
  • working out how to accurately and rapidly identify TB in meat — being able to do this will reduce disruption at meat processing plants and provide an effective disease surveillance network throughout the country
  • tracking individual animal movements to understand how disease spreads and investigating why NAIT tags fail — this will support implementation of a risk-based testing policy for livestock diseases.

Collaboration and technology support our research

We also plan to increase our research collaborations with technology companies and organisations involved in pest management — for example, the Department of Conservation, Predator Free 2050 Ltd (PF2050) and Zero Invasive Predators (ZIP).

Technology now offers us options that previously did not exist. Tools such as thermal and multispectral sensors, radar, artificial intelligence software, drones, automated remote data collection, and ‘big data’ analytics will benefit our work. For example:

  • artificial intelligence can identify individual animal species and provide us with increasingly accurate surveillance data in remote places, and
  • machine-learning packages can analyse the large quantity of data we collect, helping us gain greater insights into the spread of disease in both wildlife and livestock. 

OSPRI research

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Read transcript for this video
Richard Curtis, OSPRI Research Project Manager: OSPRI, and its predecessor the Animal Health Board, has done research for decades and I think we're coming to a point now where we're very much focused on operationalising the research that we're doing. It is far more applied. We've got the field teams here today and we're starting to push that out to those people at the coal face.

Sam Vye, co-founder of Envico Technologies: Envico have now been working with OSPRI for about a year now and we've been working really collaboratively to work out what the problems are that technology might be able to solve. Here we build big, heavy-lift drone systems, unmanned helicopters, suitable for conducting conservation biosecurity work as well as smaller systems, or even machine-learning within drones and automated ground devices.

Cameron Baker, co-founder of Envico Technologies: Yes, so the technology's been great so it's intuitive, they're smart units, they're quite easy to operate so you can use this technology straight out of the box with some or minimal training. We've been developing payload systems specific for drones. What we wanted to do was just scale the ability of what drones were capable of spreading, and also utilising the precision or accuracy that comes with that technology as well. In terms of impact or the data you actually get back from these tools it is immense. What that means is that they can effectively pull out a small drone from their vehicle, and go and monitor a small pocket of land up to about 100 hectares and then identify if there's a need to go there and do applications or not.

For the possum spitfire, what we've developed is a fence line tool that can effectively be placed out in the forest, or into another environment and last 12 months or for 100 shots.

Richard Curtis: What is exciting is the speed with which hopefully with which we're getting feedback in terms of what's there and the impact we're having. That speed should go up no end I think. Now that we've got a closer goal of eradication of TB in herds in 2026, we're ramping up the speed with which we're needing to eradicate this disease. If we can get to a place where we can survey an area using a drone — cover 1000s of hectares in no time at all with a thermal camera, bring it back, pretty much count the number of possums there, that's a real game changer for us. I hope that we can start operationalising all of that this year. We're going to start trialing their spitfire trap — very exciting times actually, very exciting.

How we'll choose research projects

We are creating a process for selecting projects. OSPRI shareholders will be invited to contribute research topics or proposals, and comment on the focus of research each year.

We plan to invest in projects that:

  • deliver outcomes that can be implemented
  • drive cost efficiencies in the control and surveillance of TB and other diseases
  • provide innovations in our operations that help us achieve our goals faster, or
  • introduce new technology to help track disease, and predict and manage the risk of disease spreading.

Benefits of our research

Our research provides benefits beyond the TB eradication programme. It contributes to the science underpinning livestock and wildlife animal health management, and disease detection, surveillance, monitoring and control.

Our research also supports the effectiveness of our National Animal Identification and Tracing (NAIT) programme, which traces livestock movements across the supply chain to manage animal health, disease outbreaks, and food safety and biosecurity risks.

Our pest control programmes bring significant biodiversity benefits and contribute to the goals of Predator Free 2050. Alongside this, our collaborations with other agencies support programmes such as the Department of Conservation’s Tiakina ngā manu.

Our past research

Over the years, our main research effort and investment has gone into finding more efficient and cost-effective ways to control bovine TB. In the last 2 decades, we have invested in research to:

  • determine the most effective rates to spread aerial 1080 at, so as to minimse the quantity of 1080 used whilst still controlling possums
  • examine alternatives to 1080 and improve its effectiveness as a bait
  • find better ways to undertake surveillance of possums and discover how disease spreads through other species like pigs and deer
  • develop several software modules that enable Area Disease Managers to design and plan annual disease-management strategies and to assist in declaring areas free of disease — Proof of Freedom
  • understand the epidemiology of bovine TB
  • improve the accuracy and efficiency of herd testing for TB
  • trial TB vaccines that would help with disease management in livestock.