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Meeting on 22 October, for the first time since July, the South Wairarapa Rebus Club discussed the near-term prospect of our having to deal with members who might be unvaccinated. A clear line was drawn between those who were refused vaccination for medical reasons and any who might choose to remain unvaccinated for their own reasons. The consensus of the meeting was to await the possibility of further Government regulation before determining our own individual club policy at the February AGM.

The Guest Speaker was our own John Reeve, a retired Government toxicologist, talking about toxic plants in New Zealand. He distinguished “toxic hazard” relating to the nature of a poisonous substance, from “toxic risk” which reflects the likelihood of human contact with the substance at levels determined to have toxic effects. Even for carcinogens, if the hazard is present in a low enough quantity, it is without risk.

Plants are not benign. Many have evolved the ability to secrete substances to discourage browsing by fungi, insects and animals. For example, when a zucchini plant is attacked by a fungus it produces for self-protection an internal fungicide, a substance which is known to be toxic to humans. Only a very dedicated zucchini lover could eat enough “organic” zucchini for symptoms to appear but commercially grown zucchini that have been sprayed against the fungus do not produce the toxin at all.

In New Zealand there have been periodic mass poisonings through honey, the last being in Coromandel in 2008 where 22 people are known to have sought medical help including 12 who were hospitalised. The source of the poison, tutin, was tutu (Coriaria arborea), a New Zealand native shrub that grows throughout the country. However, tutu flowers are not toxic as the toxin is not present in the pollen, which bees take for its protein. The mechanism of transfer was found to be an insect, the passion vine hopper or “lace wing” (Scolypopa australis), that sucks sap from the tutu leaves and secretes honeydew containing tutin, which the bees also harvest because of its sweetness. This insect is found only in warmer regions, which explains why honey poisoning has only been described in the North Island and northern parts of the South Island.

The South Wairarapa Rebus Club meets in the South Wairarapa Working Men’s Club on the fourth Friday morning of each month and organises an outing in those months with a fifth Friday. Anyone in the retired age group who may be interested in SW Rebus Club is welcome to come along to a meeting as a visitor.  Please contact David Woodhams 306 8319.


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