Facial Eczema in beef cattle

The aim of this study was to analyse existing data sets from animal health laboratories around New Zealand and from animals at slaughter via meat processing companies to see if the prevalence and distribution of facial eczema (FE) in beef cattle could be quantified.


Facial eczema is a disease of concern in New Zealand known to affect sheep, cattle, goats, llama and alpaca. FE is attributed to the ingestion of a toxin (sporidesmin A) produced by strains of the fungus Pseudopithomyces chartarum which sits in the litter at the base of some pasture swords.

The damaging impacts of FE on sheep and beef farms include reduced production and income, stress on farmers and their animals, impacts on animal welfare and environmental concerns around zinc treatments. As the fungus prefers warmer temperatures, it is likely that an increase in temperatures due to climate change will increase the number and extent of FE outbreaks in New Zealand.

While it is known that FE affects beef cattle, it is unknown to what extent or where in New Zealand it mostly occurs.

Benefit for industry

Understanding the prevalence, distribution and impact this disease has in beef cattle allows an informed strategy for the resources needed for research and management.

Key results

The data showed presence of FE in beef cattle. However, due to the limitations of the data from the animal health laboratories and meat processing companies, this could not be quantified. The limitations of the data were:

  • the number of animals tested/affected were not consistently recorded
  • there was a lack of detail in the meat processing data on livestock type and origin available
  • there was a lack of detailed data from the lab on what test was used for diagnosis and if this was consistent across the different laboratories
  • it is suspected that not all farmers with suspected FE had their animals tested, so the data was not truly representative

Timeline and investment

This was a seven-month project with investment by B+LNZ of $8,000 over the duration.

B+LNZ investment: B+LNZ investment into this project is $8,000 over the duration of the project.


This project was led by Ken Geenty and funded by B+LNZ.

B+LNZ point of contact: Cara Brosnahan.