Any government ban imposed on the export of feral venison could have catastrophic effects on native forests and regional helicopter businesses, says the former owner of such a business.



Shamus Howard, the former owner of Taupo-based Helisika Ltd, today said Agriculture Minister Jim Sutton would be short-sighted if he eventually decided to ban the export of "wild" venison.



Ending hunting by commercial shooters would mean wild deer populations would boom throughout the country, placing pressure on native bush, he said.



Agriculture officials are testing feral venison for 1080 poison contamination because of food safety concerns raised by the recent rash of deer poaching in the central North Island.

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And Agriculture Minister Jim Sutton is looking at banning future exports of venison from feral deer, after the poaching raised concerns that some commercial hunters may be selling for export carcasses of deer shot in areas where possums are being poisoned.



But Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society president Gerry McSweeney has said the export of around 1000 tonnes of meat annually from feral deer effectively meant around 20,000 animals were no longer eating precious native forests.



Dr McSweeney called on Mr Sutton to encourage any meat processors that had suspended processing of feral venison to reverse their decision, because this would maintain the export market and help save indigenous ecosystems.



Big venison processor and marketers are reported to have stopped buying feral deer after Mr Sutton voiced concern over the potential for feral meat to affect the $4 billion industry exporting farmed deer, cattle and sheep meat.



Mair Venison Ltd, which operates processing plants in Kennington (near Invercargill) and Hokitika, has stopped buying wild venison.



At Venison Rotorua Ltd -- formerly Mair Venison Ltd -- about 11 of the staff of between 50 and 60 work on the processing of feral venison.



Venison Rotorua general manager Tony Dellar said venison from feral animals had not been recalled from his company for testing, though it produced about 80 per cent of the North Island's "wild" venison production.



"We have stopped buying it, not because of poison (scares), but because of the suggestion by the Agriculture Minister," he said.

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But less than 5 per cent of the venison processed by the company was from feral animals -- the rest was sourced from farms.



Mr Howard said feral venison fetched about $300 an animal and he estimated 15 North Island helicopter operators secured the bulk of their income shooting wild deer. There were hundreds of ground hunters, and at least 50 Taupo people earned income this way.



Banning the export of meat from feral deer would affect every native forest with wild deer, from Fiordland to the Central North Island, said Mr Howard, who is now a Taupo district councillor. Feral deer were as damaging to native bush as possums because the deer ate seedlings in regenerating forest.



Mr Howard said if there was no commercial hunting of deer, the feral populations in some areas would "explode" and in 10-15 years the Government would have to pay cullers just to keep the numbers down.



But a two-seater helicopter cost about $300,000 a year to operate and the Government would have to pay operators between $200,000 and $300,000 just to recover costs, he said. At present those costs were carried by the operators in the commercial meat recovery industry.



"Each helicopter operation needs a pilot, engineers and shooter, so if they're put out of business, it'll have significant downstream effects."



- DAILY POST (ROTORUA)