Home' Straight Furrow 70th Anniversary : Dec 19 2011 Contents Straight Furrow • December 19, 2011 27
1941 -- 2011
RCD illegally introduced
Rabbits a long
term problem IN September 1997, a group of Central
Otago farmers illegally introduced the
RCD rabbit killing virus .
The blatant breach of the country's
biosecurity laws had officials outraged
but it was welcomed by farmers in the
Rumours of the outbreak were rife in
Central Otago some weeks before they
were confirmed and it was also thought
someone from outside the farming com-
munity had brought the virus in and
offered it to farmers.
Farmers' attitude swiftly became " it's
here, let's use it".
On July 2, 1997, the Deputy Director-
General of Agriculture had declined the
application to import and release RCD.
The decision involved two clearly differ-
ent considerations: one focused on the
risks of RCD to ecosystems and other
species; while the other examined its
potential as a biological control agent
and the organisational arrangements for
The illegal importation of RCD that fol-
lowed this decision was the product of a
long running debate.
Many members of New Zealand's typi-
cally law abiding rural communities were
involved in spreading the illegally intro-
duced virus. This was a major breach of
New Zealand's biosecurity. There was
extensive government and public criti-
cism of the illegal action and the subse-
quent widespread dissemination of the
virus by farmers.
The farmer at the centre of the quara-
tine area subsequently imposed was cau-
tious about the possible effects of the
Donald Young, from Lowburn, told
was welcome it should be backed up with
greater use of more conventional meth-
ods of control.
Mr Young said his farm was probably
targeted because it bordered a public
area and was the biggest farm in the
immediate district. He was questioned by
MAF officials but denied any responsibili-
ty for distributing the virus.
RCD was present in Australia and the
strongest rumour was it was brought in
from there by someone on a rugby tour
Mr Young said it was ridiculous to try
and stop the spread.
"I'd like to say that everyone leaving
the area should take a few infected rab-
bits with them. Get it spread as far as
The virus had an immediate effect but
over time rabbits developed some immu-
THE history of New Zealand's
includes numerous refer-
ences to farmers and govern-
ment waging war on rabbits
because they ate into farm pro-
Control, not eradication of rab-
bits remains a long running bat-
tle and there have been concert-
ed efforts to ring fence them on
some properties, poison, control
numbers with natural predators,
trapping, hunting and finally bio-
By 1883, 17 million rabbit skins
were exported, numbers later
peaking at 20 million.
The introduction of the Rabbit
Nuisance Amendment Act in 1946
was a national, collective, co-
ordinated attempt to get on top
of the rabbit problem.
More than 100 rabbit boards
were set up to administer the
control and killing of rabbits.
Boards were funded by landhold-
er rates based on the size of
their properties or stock num-
bers and through central govern-
Aerial poisoning introduced in
1949 was considered a break-
through in rabbit control, but
was still only one tool in the tool
box for keeping them under con-
trol.1080 was also used and con-
The 1980s led to changes in
funding and management of rab-
bit control along with an increase
in numbers. The Government of
the time had ignored calls from
desperate farmers for myxomato-
sis as a biological control.
Finally in the mid-1990s, farm-
ers took matters into their own
hands and illegally introduced
rabbit haemorrhagic disease
(RHD). Controversial when first
introduced, no one could deny
that RHD dented rabbit popula-
SINCE its establishment in 1985, the
Farmers' Fighting Fund has been
called on to fight political battles
but none more so than in the mid
1990s when issues such as sanctity of
property rights, ACC costs, the
Resource Management Act, and the
cost of red tape were to the fore.
Under the auspices of Federated
Farmers, the promoters of the fund
proclaimed it was "time to fight back".
In the mid 1990s when a "call to
arms" was made over Maori land
issues farmers were confronted by
large advertisements in Straight Furrow
that were reminiscent of World War II
"We earn 67.5 per cent of New
Zealand's export earnings. That means
$7 out of every $10 NZ earns is earned
by us. It's time to fight back."
Under the sub heading "Sanctity of
property rights", it proclaimed:
One of the cornerstones of a demo-
cratic society. New Zealand law says
that private property cannot be expro-
priated yet the government plans to do
just that using perpetual leases to set-
tle Maori claims.
The Feds declared it was time to
demand returns for farmers and future
generations of farmers.
It sought a fighting fund of at least
$10 million to call its own and it would
be a powerful weapon to help all farm-
ers battle injustices.
Alone farmers did not have the
resources to take on the chosen battle
and a fighting fund was going to give
farmers and those who depended on
Today, 25 years on the fund is as
active as ever.
Farmers are still encouraged to
donate to the fund because:
• Farmers cannot afford to fight gov-
• Farmers can no longer afford to
fight well resourced 'conservation' and
• Individual farmers cannot take on
these fights, but the Farmers' Fighting
The Farmers Fighting Fund
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