Michael Bennett Regional Advisor, Federated Farmers NZ
One of the more controversial issues that Federated Farmers deals with is the use of 1080 to control possums and other pests.
Some in New Zealand maintain that the price to be paid from using 1080 is too high, and that we should only use tools such as focused hunting and trapping programmes or traceability to control possums and other pests. Despite this, there is an accumulation of evidence that not only is there no other way to secure the livelihood of farmers and protect our bush, but also that 1080 is relatively safe to people and minimal impacts on non-target species with modern practice.
Bovine TB is a cruel disease which can also spread to people; it is therefore an economic burden on farming, an animal welfare issue, as well as a significant potential trade risk. As a direct result of the use of 1080, nationally the number of TB-infected herds is down to 68 from a peak of 1900. More than half of these herds are on the West Coast, an area that is uniquely vulnerable to transmission of TB from possums to cattle. This year 1080 operations were critical to containing a TB outbreak in the headwaters of the Rakaia, with farms in this area now confirmed clear of TB. The use of 1080 is accepted by the Department of Conservation and Forest and Bird, with appropriate rates and practices to protect non-target species.
The plague of mice from the beech forest mast this year around some South Island untreated areas, such as Arthurs Pass, is a strong indication of how necessary and valuable the use of 1080 has been in keeping pests at bay elsewhere.
It would be great to have an alternative option to the use of 1080, but other poisons do not work as well, are not as safe, or are impractical to apply from the air. 1080 also breaks down very quickly in water so does not create an issue for water supplies or aquatic life. The Auckland Council recently voted overwhelming in favour of the use of 1080 in the Waitakere range - a source of drinking water for Auckland. Logically if there were a safer, more effective poison than 1080, we would be using that substance instead.
Trapping and shooting are alternative tools, but the massive areas involved and often rough country^ mean that these are not practical or affordable as a primary control.
The other critical tool in the TB-control toolbox is traceability. Compulsory recording of cattle and deer movements has been an effective tool for disease control. Federated Farmers takes a dim view of those who flout the movement rules as it adds to the cost of control and puts the whole industry all at risk. Some oppose the use of 1080 because it can poison dogs or reduce deer populations. Dogs are excluded from areas where 1080 has been recently laid and any dog which eats a 1080 poisoned carcass should be given an antidote within a few hours. In the right dose, 1080 is lethal to deer, but modern practice now involves application rates and delivery systems which target pests and reduce the impact on non-target species.
Those involved in discussions on 1080 are often very passionate about what they believe, however it is essential that discussion is undertaken respectfully with reasons well thought out and clearly expressed.
In my opinion, the 1080 debate is about what is right, and there are divergent views as to what this is. It is disappointing and unnecessary for this discussion to create divisions in society, or to cause people to no longer associate with those who hold a different view to them. The world is too complex and contains too many risks for us to allow this to happen.