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Scientists Phone For Help In Possum Control

Scientists Phone For Help In Charting Possum Control Course

Landcare Research scientists are going to the public for guidance on the paths they should take in developing ways to control the fertility of one of New Zealand's worst pests - the possum.

Despite all attempts to curb numbers over several decades, the possum population has steadily climbed to about 70 million, significantly outnumbering even sheep. Possums damage native forests, spread bovine Tb among cattle and deer, and eat the eggs and chicks of native birds.

This week marks the start of a nationwide telephone survey by Landcare Research. The aim is to find out more about people's views on possums, the current control methods of trapping and poisoning, and two potential fertility control methods which may include the use of genetic engineering, which are being researched by scientists from various institutes. One involves a bait containing a protein from possum eggs, which makes the female possum react against its own eggs, and become less fertile. The other involves curtailing possums' sex drive, through a bait containing a drug which kills the specific brain cells that control the production of breeding hormones.

Landcare Research development manager, Ian Whitehouse, says the results will not be taken lightly. "We will use the results of this survey to direct our research. If there are things that the public clearly does not want, then we will not pursue such avenues".

"We already know that many New Zealanders recognise that there are numerous uses of genetic engineering, with food, medicine and pest control being the three main examples. The use of GE in food tends to upset people more than the others. However, we do need more information on what people think of GE for pest control".

Landcare Research sociologist Roger Wilkinson says the new survey is not the first to examine the public's views on possum control options and genetic engineering. A study conducted along with the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment and AgResearch was published last year in the report 'Caught in the Headlights', available from the Commissioner's office. "That study showed us the wide RANGE of views held by the public" says Mr Wilkinson. "The new survey of a thousand people will give the WEIGHT of views. In other words, it will give us a statistically valid sample of how common the various views are, and whether different sectors of society hold different views.

"We don't ask people what they think of GE technology specifically, as surveys by other organisations have already done that. We want to know what the public thinks of fertility control methods that do and don't involve GE".

ENDS

For more information, contact:

Roger Wilkinson Sociologist Landcare Research Lincoln wk:(03) 325 6701 x 3818 hm:(03) 325 4411 WilkinsonR@landcare.cri.nz

Ian Whitehouse Development Manager Landcare Research Lincoln wk: (03) 325 6701 x3764 mobile: 025 336 092 WhitehouseI@landcare.cri.nz

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