The science would say not. And it’s difficult to argue against a scientific agreement. That won’t stop people from trying, and there are a few common misconceptions.
One is the indiscriminate nature of baits. The baits themselves have improved greatly, with different colours, shapes and scents being used to target the pests. They are dropped using GPS mapping in small quantities, and often followed up with physical markers. The very nature of an aerial drop means that it may not be as accurate as a precision strike, but what we have is pretty damn close.
Another is unintentional deaths. While there are deaths of domestic animals, those numbers are historically low. This is because the Department of Conservation (DoC) has a thorough process to make communities and landowners are aware of nearby drops to advise owners to take precautions, especially for dogs that easily manage to roam freely and are highly susceptible to the toxin.
One of the best resources for this is an independent report from the Commissioner for the Environment which acknowledges the by-kill, calculated the benefit and concluded it is an effective pest-control. It is now estimated that around 25 million native bird eggs are eaten by pests; imagine how worse it would be if we took away the only tool we had to fight them in remote areas?
However the claims of by-kill are often visceral – and with the quick use of social media and heart-wrenching videos, claims of 1080 put to the public before anything is verified. The number of assumptions that 1080 is the cause of death is quite high, but upon testing it is often proven false. Much of the initial claims are found to be from household poisons, or something entirely unrelated. But by then the proverbial has hit the fan.
Another concern is poisoning the water. 1080 does not bio-accumulate. It’s that simple. Fluoroacetate (the active ingredient in 1080) is a plant-based toxin that naturally breaks down, is found in tea and has been a natural defence mechanism for plants such as the Puha. Years of research, from groups like NIWA and Landcare, have shown that there is little to no residue found in water after a 1080 drop. Of the trace amounts that were found, it was the equivalent to or lower than that which is found naturally.
The Ministry of Primary Industries found that humans have an “extremely low risk” of poisoning even if a person has eaten a trout with the ‘peak level’ amounts of 1080, which falls well short of internationally accepted risks to human health. There is no danger to marine life either, and many of these tests were done in dosages 10x the amount that would ever be used.
Sadly, much of the substance of the anger at 1080 seems to draw from the anti-establishment well. This is what saddens me the most; that despite all the evidence of 1080 being effective it is quickly dismissed because there is some relation to a crown entity or state department. Even the independent charities, such as Forest and Bird, are dismissed as being too cosy with government. While there are obvious and understandable reasons people may be sceptical of government and even science; but pest control is not a profitable industry. There is no financial motive, or any discernible motive that comes from the use of 1080. So why would we continue to use it? Because it’s proven to work.
Perhaps this is the fermentation cycle of the anti-establishment and ‘fake news’ movement spreading to our shores – those distrusting of all authority have found a haven in the anti-1080 movement. It certainly seems that way, as there seems to be little verified evidence (and even less compelling) which creates a case against 1080. DoC has been forced to create a dedicated site to debunk the massive amounts of misleading videos, photos and statements about 1080.
There are legitimate concerns around the dropping of 1080. The rights of tangata whenua and land ownership are some which have been discussed. But the concerns about 1080 as a poison is driven by emotion, with little credible science. The evidence (overseas and independent included) is overwhelmingly supportive of 1080 as an effective pest control. The scientific method is an open call for data to be challenged, and there has been no robust response to critique the effectiveness of 1080.
Fundamentally, this is about trust. All of our dedicated conservation groups are supportive of 1080 as the only way to effectively protect out native wildlife in remote, inaccessible areas. These are not cold-hearted government machines, they are thousands of passionate, well-meaning people and experts in their field who have studied and worked in this subject for their entire lives. I consider their work thorough and reliable. I’m surprised there are people who do not.