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14 October, 1997
"Pet owners need have no qualms about feeding their animals processed commercial petfood containing rabbit," the Ministry of Agriculture's Acting National Manager of Specifications for Meat and Seafood, Phil Ward said today.
Mr Ward was repeating MAF assurances to owners of pets other than rabbits who might be worried about possible effects of rabbit calicivirus disease (RCD) on their pets.
He said RCD had existed in more than 40 overseas countries - mainly in Europe - for more than a decade, and had been on the Australian mainland for nearly two years. "During that time, we are not aware of any reports of human or animals other than European rabbits getting sick after eating rabbits suspected to have died of the disease, nor do we know of any bans or restrictions on the consumption of rabbit meat in any of the countries that the virus is circulating in."
Mr Ward said these overseas reports indicate the risk from fresh raw rabbit meat is extremely low. In processed commercial petfood, the risk is even further reduced because the virus, which cannot survive high temperatures, is killed by cooking.
However, Mr Ward cautioned pet owners against feeding dead rabbits which had died from RCD to their pets. "This is not specific to RCD. It is always unwise to feed the carcase of any animal which has died of any disease to another animal, because of the risk of bacterial contamination."
Mr Ward also repeated MAF's advice that owners of pet rabbit get them vaccinated.
Any comments about the effects of RCD on human health should be directed to the Ministry of Health, which has previously advised that those handling rabbits which have died of RCD should take care, as the rabbits may carry other diseases such as salmonella.
Media inquiries to:
Phil Ward, Acting National Manager, Specifications, Meat and Seafood,
MAF Regulatory Authority (021) 659 944
Debbie Gee, Manager, Corporate Communications (04)474 4258