Rabbit virus release delay slammed as ‘botch-up’

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STEVE.ADDISON

@thenews.co.nz

Otago regional councillor Michael Laws has called the delay in the release of a new variant of the rabbit haemorrhagic disease virus a “botch-up”.

It was announced last week the virus would not be released until autumn 2018, after it was initially hoped it would be released this year.

Cr Laws said he was demanding the “full facts” behind the delay, which “would see Central Otago’s rabbit plague continue for at least another year.”

He said he would utilising both official and informal channels “to identify the log-jams and the potential threat that this virus never be released”.

“It strains credulity, and the patience of our Central communities, that a relatively simple approval process can become so complex and time-consuming.

“The Korean virus has been successfully released in Australia. They can do it, New Zealand can’t. Why?”

Cr Laws said Dunstan councillors on the Otago Regional Council had been warning of a rabbit plague for the past three years. In return, both they and their communities had been assured help was on the way and that the Korean RHDV1 strain would be operational from this autumn.

“Then this week the brakes get slammed on.

” In some parts of Central, we are back to rabbit levels of the late 1990s. At which stage, farmers took things into their own hands and you do wonder if that stage isn’t too far away, again. Without farmers’ intervention last time, I doubt the virus would ever have been released.”

Whatever the cause of the current policy blockage, Cr Laws said a dramatic revision of the Otago Regional Council’s pest strategy was required.

In February, New Zealand’s Environmental Protection Authority determined that the Korean strain of the RHDV1 rabbit virus was neither a new organism nor a hazardous substance.

Council director, environmental monitoring and operations Scott MacLean said last week an application to use the new variant in New Zealand, including in Otago, was being assessed by the Agricultural Chemicals and Veterinary Medicines group.

The group’s process for considering such applications took up to 70 days, and it was “likely the process will run the full allocation of time”, he said in a report tabled at last week’s council regulatory committee meeting.

Should the approval to import be granted, this would put the planned release “outside the window of opportunity” – in autumn – that associated science had shown was the best time for the release of the virus.

The Otago Regional Council chose not to respond to Cr Law’s comments.