No go for starling toxin

29 Jun, 2006 07:00 PM
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A STARLING toxin project to prevent the birds wreaking millions of dollars of damage on the WA agricultural industries has been unsuccessful in its attempt to secure crucial federal funding.

A Federal Agriculture Department spokesman said an RSPCA animal welfare representative on the funding advisory panel of the National Feral Animal Control Program had expressed concerns about the potential inhumanity of the toxin.

The feral animal control program's board analyses the applications and consists of representatives from industry, welfare groups and scientific organisations.

Pest control research company Pestat completed an 18-month feasibility study on a toxin called Starlicide with active ingredient DRC-1339.

DRC-1339 is an acute toxin causing irreversible kidney and heart damage in sensitive birds.

Pestat scientists reported the toxin damage resulted in a quiet and painless death normally 1-3 days after ingestion.

Part of the project included non-toxic trials carried out in the South Australian town of Ceduna; where starling flocks have been known to travel through before entering WA.

The on-ground project looked into whether DRC-1339 could be efficiently delivered to starlings without affecting other species.

But the project has not been funded to continue its research, because of what the department's control fund cited as budget limitations.

Control program project manager Quentin Hart said the Starlicide project was not invited to submit a full application because it did not rank highly enough under the control program's funding eligibility criteria.

Mr Hart said animal welfare was an issue for the program just as it was for the funding applicant.

"Nonetheless, the RSPCA member provides only one score out of half a dozen advisory panel member scores, and the scores are provided independently, so animal welfare was not the only reason this application ranked below others," he said.

"The application ranked reasonably highly - just not highly enough to make our funding cut-off."

Mr Hart said the panel had received expressions of interest worth more than $2 million, relative to their annual budget of $700,000.

"It does not mean that we don't consider starlings to be a significant issue or that we thought the project application was inappropriate," he said.

"One of our successful projects is assessing a range of control techniques for the management of starlings and other bird pests of horticulture.

"It should be pointed out that the Starlicide application was one of only 42 expressions of interest invited from over 100 initial enquiries.

"It simply means that we have a limited budget relative to a large number of pest issues to address."

Pestat chief scientific officer Steven Lapidge said despite the funding setback there was good news for the toxin.

The US Environmental Protection Authority recently re-approved the Starlicide toxin DRC-1339 for use in the USA based on criteria including humaneness.

Dr Lapidge said this was good news and augured well for permitting the trial of DRC-1339 in Australia.

He said the US had high standards of animal welfare with strict regulations.

The WA Agriculture Department has warned that starlings are an extreme threat to WA agriculture, the environment and the community.

The State Government last week announced a $2.15 million funding injection to assist in the fight against the birds.

They are listed as one of the world's worst invasive alien species.

Starlings are a great risk to primary production - gorging on cultivated grain and horticulture crops, fouling wool, competing with stock for feed and spreading diseases.

Starlings can damage buildings, vehicles, fences, roads or equipment through droppings or nesting material.

Starlings are not yet established in WA but sightings have been reported in south-eastern areas of the state.

Starlings were first detected in the Munglinup area in 2001, but in early 2006 two populations were found. They were in the Coomalbidgup area, to the east of Munglinup, and the other in the Jerdacuttup area, to the west.

These populations have since been subjected to surveillance and control efforts, which are likely to be ongoing and significantly increased in the future.

If you spot a starling, report it to the department on freecall 1800 084 881.

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