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2 July 1997
The Ministry of Agriculture delegated Decision-maker, Dr Peter O'Hara, has decided not to permit rabbit calicivirus disease (RCD) to be imported into New Zealand as
a biological control agent for rabbits. This means that the virus will continue to be classified as an unwanted organism in terms of the Biosecurity Act 1993.
Dr O'Hara said there were three principal reasons for deciding not to
permit the introduction of the RCD virus:
Expanding on these reasons, Dr O'Hara made the following points:
Dr O'Hara said other issues and matters of concern were raised by the consultation process and four issues stood out above the others in terms of the level of
interest. Those issues are outlined below, along with Dr O'Hara's assessments of them.
Dr O'Hara acknowledged that some commentators might not agree with his assessments, but he had concluded that these issues were not in themselves reasons for not
permitting the importation of the RCD virus.
"I recognise that my decision will disappoint and even anger many people who are struggling to deal with rabbits using current technology," Dr O'Hara
said in his report. "I can empathise the sense of futility they feel that, even when they have achieved a good rabbit kill through an expensive primary poisoning operation, they have regained a plateau position for their farming operation which will be eroded by the prolificacy of the remaining rabbits.
"It is important to note that if the original timetable for the joint Australia - New Zealand research programme could have been followed, this decision would
not have been taken until 1998. Our current lack of understanding of RCD as a tool for biological control is a serious impediment to rational decision making."
Dr O'Hara highlighted the non-sustainability of present "user-pays" rabbit control policies.
"For more than one hundred years (1887-1995), the rabbit problem in New Zealand was considered to be sufficiently significant to warrant subsidisation of
control costs. There can be little doubt that taxpayer and ratepayer funds have made a major contribution to confining the rabbit problem to a relatively small area of New Zealand's land mass," he said.
"The cessation of subsidies for rabbit control with the completion of the Rabbit and Land Management Programme in 1995 and the introduction of 'user-pays' pest
control by regional councils in their regional pest management strategies, has shifted the costs for rabbit control to land-holders. On rabbit-prone land, these costs represent a major financial burden and, for many, it is not a sustainable burden.
"In my view, current rabbit control policies can only contribute to further degradation of rabbit-prone land with loss of productive, ecological, environmental, amenity and heritage values. The fundamental problem is the high cost of currently available rabbit control technology."
He said there was also a pressing need for a new technological approach to rabbit control.
"Throwing dollars at the problem will help as it has done in the past, but current technology based on primary poisoning with 1080 reinforced by secondary control measures does not achieve a permanent solution. New technology is required," Dr O'Hara said. "RCD might still be a candidate for biological control if we can learn to manage it and answer some of the epidemiological questions discussed in the Chief Veterinary Officer's report."
Both the Decision-maker's report and that of the Chief Veterinary Officer have been sent to all reviewers and to all those who made submissions. These documents are
also on the MAF Internet site: www.maf.govt.nz.