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Application for approval of use of Rabbit Haemorrhagic Virus Disease RHDV1-K5


New rabbit calicivirus strain approved for release

MPI has approved the application from Environment Canterbury to import and release a new Rabbit Haemorrhagic Virus Disease strain, known as RHDV1 K5. This is not a new virus. It is a Korean strain of the existing RHDV1 virus already widespread in New Zealand. It was selected for release because it can better overcome the protective effects of the benign calicivirus (RCA-A1), which occurs naturally in wild rabbit populations in New Zealand.

The virus won't completely fix the wild rabbit problem for New Zealand farmers, but the new virus strain will have an effect on wild rabbit populations, and will supplement traditional methods of control.

MPI has assessed the potential benefits and impacts of the virus before granting the application. As a result, there are a number of conditions to ensure the virus will be securely transported, stored and used in accordance with strict protocols. 

MPI also considered risks to animal welfare and sought independent advice from the National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee (NAWAC). This advice resulted in controls being applied to the sale and use of RHDV1 K5 to address specific welfare concerns. 

MPI acknowledges some domestic rabbit owners have questions about how to protect their pet rabbits from the virus.  MPI advises pet rabbit owners to discuss vaccination plans with their veterinarian to ensure their rabbits have the best protection available.

The existing Cylap RCD Vaccine, which has been used in New Zealand for many years to protect domestic rabbits from the current RHDV1 virus, can also be used to protect pet rabbits against the RHDV1 K5 strain.  Zoetis, the manufacturer of the vaccine has confirmed that additional vaccine supplies have been made available in New Zealand.

A nation-wide release of the virus will take place over March and April 2018.

MPI has responses available for questions we have received about the virus, including how long it takes for immunity to develop in pet rabbits following vaccination.


Environment Canterbury applied for approval to introduce and use the Rabbit Haemorrhagic Virus Disease RHDV1-K5 for pest rabbit management. The intent was to introduce the strain nationally.

Applications were made under both the Agricultural Chemicals and Veterinary Medicines (ACVM) Act 1997 and the Biosecurity Act 1993. The ACVM application was notified in the New Zealand Gazette.

RHDV (a Czech strain) already exists in New Zealand, after it was introduced in 1997. This 2017 application was for a Korean strain that wasn’t currently found here. The applications followed the Environmental Protection Authority’s decision that the new strain was not a new organism under the HSNO Act 1996.

MPI's role

Under the ACVM Act, the virus strain is classified as a Vertebrate Toxic Agent. This means it needs to be registered. The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) consulted on the application under the ACVM Act, before making any decision on registering the virus.

MPI considered benefits of the release to the agricultural sector, as well as identification and management of risks to animal welfare, agricultural impacts, trade, and public health matters associated with the virus. This included the risk to pet and farmed rabbits, and the availability of protection by a vaccine. MPI followed criteria for assessing applications to register the virus.

Any new strain that is released, propagated, and sold also needs to be approved under the Biosecurity Act. The RHDV1-K5 strain would only be approved if it met the requirements under the ACVM and Biosecurity Acts.

Have your say

MPI sought your feedback on the application. Submissions closed on 14 December 2017.

Submissions are public information

Any submission you make becomes public information. Anyone can ask for copies of all submissions under the Official Information Act 1982 (OIA). The OIA says we must make the information available unless we have a good reason for withholding it. You can find those grounds in sections 6 and 9 of the OIA. Tell us if you think there are grounds to withhold specific information in your submission. Reasons might include, it's commercially sensitive or it's personal information. However, any decision MPI makes to withhold information can be reviewed by the Ombudsman, who may require the information be released.