Possession and Spread of RCD Now Lawful in New Zealand

  • Simon Upton

Regulations which make it lawful
to possess and spread material containing rabbit calicivirus disease (RCD) are
now in effect, the Minister for
Biosecurity, Hon Simon Upton announced

The effect of the Biosecurity (Rabbit Calicivirus) Regulations
1997, which took effect yesterday, is to deem that from 24 September 1997 RCD

is established in New Zealand and the offence of possessing material
containing the virus no longer applies.

The Regulations will not provide
a retrospective immunity to those who have acted in breach of section 21 of the
Animals Act. The Ministry of
Agriculture still intends to prosecute those
responsible for introducing the virus into New Zealand and those involved in the
initial spreading of it.
Investigations in this area are continuing.

The Minister said the Government had also introduced legislation into
the House today so as to give Parliament the opportunity to consider the

matter fully and to avoid any question about the vires of the regulations
that have been passed.

The policy background to the regulations and
proposed legislation is as follows:

From the information which became
available within a few days of the first confirmation of RCD, it was clear that
containment and
eradication was not technically feasible.

Government decided that the public interest was best served by facilitating the
exchange of information about the behaviour of the
disease but this could
not happen while the threat of prosecution existed.

It is the
Government's expectation that everybody who has an interest in controlling
rabbits will now see the benefits in sharing information
and that this will
lead to the development of rabbit control strategies which integrate RCD as a
tool, perhaps the principal tool, with other
control measures. MAF has been
charged with facilitating the communication between the interested parties but
Government and its
agencies are not going to assume a management
responsibility for rabbit control. Regional pest management strategies are the
vehicle for an integrated approach.

Mr Upton said MAF's
Chief Veterinary Officer would now consider whether the status of the RCD virus
as an "unwanted" organism should be
retained. "Given that the Biosecurity
Amendment Bill Number 4, which is due to become law, would introduce an offence
of spreading an
unwanted organism, it seems inconsistent for RCD to retain
its unwanted organism status in light of the Government's decision that it
should be
made legal," the Minister said.