The continuing story of Mycoplasma bovis in New Zealand

University of Otago studies reveal the impact of the M. bovis outbreak and eradication programme on southern farmers, veterinarians and frontline workers.


Boyce, C., Jaye, C., Noller, G., Bryan, M., & Doolan-Noble, F. (2021). Mycoplasma bovis in New Zealand: a content analysis of media reporting. Kōtuitui: New Zealand Journal of Social Sciences Online, 16(2), 335–355.


Mycoplasma bovis, a disease affecting cattle worldwide, was first reported in New Zealand in 2017. Classed as an unwanted organism, the Government attempted eradicating it via culling of infected herds. This study reviews media coverage of this process over the first two years following the incursion. Content analysis was used to explore media framing of the management, containment and progress towards eradication of cattle infected by M. bovis over time. The analysis revealed that farmers and communities affected by M. bovis reported many forms of adverse health and well-being impacts. Apparent causes included the outbreak itself, the Government’s eradication programme, the way that programme was delivered, and the cumulative nature of stressors on the sector. The analysis also underlined media focus on raising the profile of the human cost of this biosecurity disaster. Arguably this approach amplified deficits within the processes and management strategies adopted by the Ministry for Primary Industries. This research adds to the small but growing body of evidence relating to the health and social impacts of exotic animal disease incursions on rural communities in New Zealand and elsewhere. Findings can be used to facilitate planning for future responses.


Doolan-Noble, F., Noller, G., Jaye, C., & Bryan, M. (2023). Moral distress in rural veterinarians as an outcome of the Mycoplasma bovis incursion in southern New Zealand. New Zealand Veterinary Journal, 71(3), 116–127.


Aims: To gain insight into the world of rural veterinarians during the Mycoplasma bovis incursion within southern Aotearoa New Zealand by exploring their experiences during the incursion, and to understand the consequences, positive and negative, of these experiences. 

Methods: A qualitative social science research methodology, guided by the philosophical paradigm of pragmatism, was used to collect data from an information-rich sample (n = 6) of rural veterinarians from Otago and Southland. Interview and focus group techniques were used, both guided by a semi-structured interview guide. Veterinarians were asked a range of questions, including their role within the incursion; whether their involvement had any positive or negative impact for them; and their experience of conflicting demands. Analysis of the narrative data collected was guided by Braun and Clarke’s approach to reflexive thematic analysis.

Results and findings: All six participants approached agreed to participate. Analysis of the data provided an understanding of the trauma they experienced during the incursion. An overarching theme of psychological distress was underpinned by four sub-themes, with epistemic injustice and bearing witness the two sub-themes reported to be associated with the greatest experience of psychological distress. These, along with the other two identified stressors, led to the experience of moral distress, with moral residue and moral injury also experienced by some participants.

Conclusions: Eradication programmes for exotic diseases in production animals inevitably have an impact on rural veterinarians, in their role working closely with farmers. Potentially, these impacts could be positive, recognising and utilising veterinarians’ experience, skills and knowledge base. This study, however, illustrates the significant negative impacts for some rural veterinarians exposed to the recent M. bovis eradication programme in New Zealand, including experiences of moral distress and moral injury. Consequently, this eradication programme resulted in increased stress for study participants. There is a need to consider how the system addresses future exotic disease incursions to better incorporate and utilise the knowledge and skills of the expert workforce of rural veterinarians and to minimise the negative impacts on them.

Clinical relevance: To date, the experience of moral distress by rural veterinarians during exotic disease incursions has been under-reported globally and unexplored in New Zealand. The findings from this study contribute further insights to the existing limited literature and provide guidance on how to reduce the adverse experiences on rural veterinarians during future incursions.