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26 August 1997
The Ministry of Agriculture has confirmed that rabbit calicivirus disease (RCD) has been detected in dead rabbits taken from one property in the Cromwell area in the South Island.
Six samples from three rabbits reacted positively to tests using RCD antigen detection kits from the world reference laboratory for RCD in Italy.
There have also been reports of suspicious deaths on properties in Twizel and the Maniototo, suggesting that disease is be widespread in the South Island.
"It appears this disease has been deliberately and illegally introduced by people wanting to use it as a biocontrol tool," MAF Chief Veterinary Officer Dr Barry O'Neil said. "This is an incredibly irresponsible thing to do, particularly given that in these circumstances there are no guarantees that what has been released is a pure strain of the virus. There is a risk, however small, that it could be contaminated with other diseases which could pose a threat to animals other than rabbits.
"Fortunately, MAF has well-prepared contingency plans in place to deal with just such an event," Dr O'Neil said. "This includes having pre-purchased 20,000 dozes of RCD vaccine.
Ten thousand of these doses are already in New Zealand; the rest are in Australia.
"MAF will retain 5,000 doses of the pre-purchased vaccine for use in the areas of highest priority and the remaining 15,000 will be available for purchase."
Dr O'Neil said rabbit owners could also follow practical steps to help minimise the risk of spread to domestic or laboratory rabbits. Rabbit owners wanting more information should contact their veterinarian or local MAF office.(see attachment)
He said MAF was also taking the following action:
The above measures are designed to contain and control the disease whilst the extent of the spread is assessed. Decisions about any further action will be taken once this has been ascertained.
The source of the infection is not known at this stage but the Ministry is carrying out investigations. Heavy penalties exist under the Biosecurity Act for anyone found guilty of deliberately introducing an unwanted organism, including the possibility of making the guilty party contribute to the cost of control.
Other affected government departments have been notified, including the Ministry of Health, Department of Conservation, Ministry for the Environment, Te Puni Kokiri,
Treasury. Representatives of these departments, along with MAF, have been formed into an Advisory Committee.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade has also been notified, as have trading partners and international regulatory authorities.
Media inquiries to:
Dr Barry O'Neil, Chief Veterinary Officer, MAF Regulatory Authority (04) 474 4128
Debbie Gee, Manager, Corporate Communications (04) 474 4258