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New biological weapon targets farmers’ no. 1 pest

The National Farmers’ Federation has welcomed the imminent release of the first new biological control for rabbits in 20 years.

The National Farmers’ Federation has welcomed the imminent release of the first new biological control for rabbits in 20 years.

Today the RHDV-OK5 (K5) strain of calicivirus will be released across the nation in a bid to combat farming’s number one pest. Federal, state and territory governments will oversee the distribution of the virus at more than 600 sites.

NFF Chief Executive Tony Mahar said it was estimated up to $200 million was lost in productivity each year due to the habits and appetite of rabbits.

Rabbits cause significant damage to agricultural land - rabbit warrens are a major contributor to soil erosion. The pests also compete with stock for feed – this is particularly hard to bear in times of drought.
Tony Mahar, Chief Executive Officer, National Farmers’ Federation

Of course they also cause significant degradation to national parks and threaten the biodiversity of Australia’s native flora and fauna.

Mr Mahar said rabbits were a perennial thorn in the side of farmers and while there was no silver bullet to their control the advent of this new strain was a welcomed step forward.

“When the calicivirus was first released 20 years it had a significant impact on rabbit populations – about 90 per cent of Australia’s rabbit population was wiped out.”

The build-up of resistance to that strain has prompted the development of K5 of which scientists say is safer and more humane than its predecessor.

Mr Mahar said the release of K5 was an example of the important role organisations such as the APVMA play in ensuring farmers have access to tools such as, biological controls in a responsible but timely manner.

Owners of pet rabbits are encouraged to vaccinate their rabbits against the virus and to contact their veterinarian about additional measures to keep their pets safe.

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