Thursday, June 3, 2010

Reviewing Department of Conservation's 1080 practice - An independent scientific review

Two american scientists spent 6 months reviewing DoC's (Department of Conservation) 1080 practice in New Zealand.
This is their summary, as it appears on ....

About a year ago we learned that DoC was routinely and indiscriminately dropping food laced with tonnes of a universal poison, 1080 into our forest ecosystems. Ostensibly, this aerial poisoning of our forests is being done to control possums.

DoC asserts that only possums and other so called “pests” are significantly poisoned. As scientists and life-long environmentalists, we were struck that this contention appears to violate the most fundamental ecological principles as well as common sense. Is it plausible that one could drop food mixed with a poison that kills all animals into a semi-tropical ecosystem and only negatively affect possums and other “pests”?

This question is particularly relevant now in light of the upcoming aerial 1080 drop into the Coromandel watershed. In science, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. We resolved to determine whether the extraordinary claims of DoC have the weight of extraordinary evidence behind them. The answer is unequivocal: they do not.

After months of investigation, we found that 1080 research, almost entirely sponsored and controlled, by DoC sustained six conclusions, which given the large cost and risks of DoC’s aerial 1080 program we find truly astonishing.

First, there is not a single scientifically credible study showing that aerial 1080 when used on the mainland is of net benefit to any species of New Zealand’s native fauna, let alone has the general salvational effects claimed by DoC.

Second, there is overwhelming evidence from DoC’s own research that aerial 1080 is killing large numbers of native animals, including birds, insects and other invertebrates, and our only native mammal, the bat. Moreover most native species are entirely unstudied.

Third, there is not a single ecosystem level study showing lack of harm, let alone showing the overwhelming beneficial effects that DoC claims. In fact 1080 drops often increase stoat and rat populations.

Fourth, while it is probable that possums, if left unchecked, would over time do some damage to our forests, the degree of that damage is not known and whether that damage is being controlled with aerial 1080 without irreversible damage to the forest ecosystem is entirely unproven.

Fifth, DoC’s 1080 research is generally of poor scientific quality, is obviously biased as one would expect given the fact that the researchers owe their jobs to the goodwill of the DoC bureaucracy, and it does not actually show what DoC claims.

Sixth, in any case, it is clear from AHB research that there is a clear alternative: ground based baiting with species specific bait stations. In short there is absolutely nothing in the scientific record that would justify the following statement from DoC’s May 14 press release: “Without 1080, the price New Zealanders would have to pay in the loss of their unique species and habitats is too awful to contemplate.”

To the contrary, DoC’s own science tells a depressingly grim story. DoC habitually, publicly and aggressively misrepresents what its research shows. For example, DoC claims in its ERMA submission “that robin nesting success more than compensates for any robin losses from 1080”. This is absolutely false.

The cited study showed increased nesting success in 1 of 3 years, but even that single success failed to translate into increased robin population success -- the bottom line. The study also showed that 54% of banded robins died in the 1080 poisoned area compared to none in the un-poisoned area.

DoC has claimed that Kereru populations are increased by aerial 1080 treatment, and yet the only study published on the subject was methodological nonsense, which proved nothing, but incidentally “showed” that Grey Warblers and Silvereye populations decreased in the 1080 treated area, an observation never mentioned by DoC’s otherwise highly efficient public opinion control machine.

DoC claims that the tomtit is not affected by aerial 1080 bait, and cites a study done by Westbrooke in 2005 to prove that. However, the published paper actually shows that substantial numbers of tomtits could be being killed even by low concentration cereal baits, and more important it shows that about 40% of tomtits died when exposed to low concentration carrot baits!!! Yet this is never mentioned by DoC. Carrot bait is still in widespread use by DoC.

DoC claims that bats are unaffected by aerial 1080. However, a competent 2002 study by Lloyd and McQueen showed that bats were clearly poisoned. The study gave a “best estimate” that 14% of bats would be killed in 14 foraging flights in a 1080-poisoned area...

There is even substantial evidence that DoC has suppressed critical research unfavourable to its aerial-1080 agenda. This research on invertebrates (insects, worms, spiders, etc.) is perhaps the most disturbing. In 1992, M Meads completed a study for DoC that showed approximately 50% mortality among forest invertebrates from a single aerial 1080 “treatment”.

DoC refused to allow the resulting paper to be published. At the same time they commissioned a similar study which structurally had no chance of detecting the high mortality seen in the Meads study. The resulting poorly designed and analyzed study remains the sole DoC-published evidence that its indiscriminate use of a poison which originally developed as an insecticide is not devastating our forest invertebrates.

The implications of this are truly disturbing given that invertebrates are the backbone of forest ecosystems. In fact, DoC’s use of aerial 1080 over the intervening 15 years has probably already done irreversible damage to the diversity of our native invertebrates which DoC is mandated to protect. New Zealand is unique in the world in its use of aerial 1080.

No other country is doing anything remotely similar to this. New Zealand uses over 85% of the world’s supply of 1080, a poison that is toxic to all animals, that is banned or severely restricted in most countries, and that is classified “extremely hazardous” by the World Health Organization. In response to this, DoC asserts that New Zealand is in a unique ecological position, but this is simply not true.

For example, the State of Hawaii has an almost identical problem with feral mammals threatening native birds, and we learned from Miles Nakahara, Forest & Wildlife branch manager that Hawaii would not even consider such a practice. “You are pretty cavalier using a poison like that … you will destroy the forest … you will lose the very thing you are trying to save.”

In addition to the lethal damage that 1080 is doing to our fauna is the potential chronic risk to animals and humans of exposure to 1080 given the proximity of recent and planned drops near habitated areas such as ours.

The acute lethal poisoning level for adult humans is some where between 30 and 200 mg. It would take eating the poison bait directly, eating a poisoned animal or an accident in a water catchment to achieve that level of toxicity.

But what is not known is the effect of sublethal and chronic poisoning. Since humans cannot be experimented upon, there are two potential avenues of approach regarding the risk to humans. First are animal experiments.

The more similar the animal is to humans, the more compelling. In this case, it may not need to be that close since the mechanism of poisoning by 1080 is common to virtually all air breathing organisms. There are very few studies in which chronic and sublethal effects have been examined and they tend to be limited in scope and short term.

What research has been done indicates that 1080 in sublethal doses can cause infertility, hormonal dysfunction, and mutations in several vertebrate species (SA Weaver, 2006).

The second approach is to examine theoretical arguments based on the modes of the poison’s action, the organs most affected and biological mechanisms of cellular disruption. Dr. Peter Scanlon’s submission to ERMA is the best review covering these issues of which we are aware.

In short, this state of affairs regarding potential chronic human toxicity is utterly deplorable. DoC has not seen fit to investigate the extent to which these may be affecting native species via chronic exposure even though its stated intention is to “treat” our forests with 1080 poisoning every two or three years into the indefinite future.

At present, we can only speculate on the long term and chronic effects of these sublethal doses of 1080 on our native species AND ourselves. Lacking evidence, to simply assume that there is no collateral damage and significant chronic effects is irresponsible in the extreme. DoC’s lack of concern and hubris matches that of the DDT story and the U.S. dropping of dioxin (agent orange) on Vietnam.

The question always arises: why are DoC and EW pushing this apparently insane practice. Many DoC employees seem to sincerely believe the company line that 1080 is a magic elixir for our forests. It is a kind of religion based in a perception that all feral species should be eliminated—absurd as that is when one says it out loud.

However, the more fundamental motivation appears to be money, budget maximization, the bureaucrat’s raison d’etre, some $80 million per year. It is easy enough to espouse this crusade against possums (and highly selected other feral species) when one gets everything from it: increased salary, perquisites, reputation, power, patronage, convenience, and ease of management. They can spend the money with whomever and in whatever way they wish.

As such, aerial 1080 “pest” control is a bureaucratic motivator with irresistible force. In summary, the scientific evidence indicates that we may be doing substantial, possibly irreversible, damage to our forest ecosystem by this inherently anti-environmental practice.

We think it is time to stop, and it is time that DoC stop propagandizing us with infantile unsupported sound bites that pander to emotion. It is time to produce the extraordinary evidence to support this extraordinary practice.

It is time that every New Zealander demand the truth from DoC and it is time to demand that the use of aerial 1080 be discontinued until the real effect of 1080 on us, our forest ecosystems and our environment is demonstrated to be beneficial by competent and independent scientific research.

Our forests, their inhabitants, our international reputation as an environmentally sane nation and perhaps our own long-term health are at stake. Patricia Whiting -OKeefe, PhD (Chemistry), Quinn Whiting-OKeefe, BA (Chemistry, Math), MA (Math), MD, FACMI (The completely referenced scientific report supporting the material in this article is available as a free download from Ends.


  1. Do groups such as yourselves protect those how speak out about 1080?

  2. We are not a group - but rather 2 individuals who have made 2 documentaries on the use of 1080 poison in New Zealand. We believe that freedom of speech in New Zealand is best preserved by speaking out. There are anti-1080 groups in New Zealand that are very vocal about its use, and these groups are growing in numbers all the time. We have now seen Westland District council, Taupo District Council, Kaikoura District Council, call for the ban of aerially applied 1080 in their districts - and others are considering doing the same. It is only a matter if time, and the use of 1080 will be banned in New Zealand - and it will be as a result of affected parties speaking out, and revealing the truth. It is possible to speak out anonymously, should you have concerns.

  3. The same old propaganda. Why do we always hear from these two foreign scientists of yours?

    Is it perhaps because the relevant scientific community in NZ is almost entirely united in the view that 1080 is currently a critical tool in protecting our native species?

    Who pays your scientists by the way? And for that matter, who funded your films and pays for you to travel around the country?

  4. Propaganda is what we get, on a weekly basis, from the pro-1080 bureaucrats and conformists.
    The american scientists you refer to, by conducting such research, have contributed greatly to New Zealand's wildlife welfare and wellbeing, and I hope will one day be acknowledged appropriately.

    It takes time to scrutinise the scientific research supporting the use of 1080 - time, many people aren't interested in using for that purpose - however, if one does start to look, It doesn't take long before the bias, and poor research quality is revealed.
    There are numerous scientists, academics, and doctors that oppose the lunatic practice of poisoning the ecosystem...poisoning it with no credible proof of benefit whatso ever! And these people are increasing, going by the feedback, on a weekly basis.

    If we were funded, it would make our job so much easier. Our first doco - A Shadow of Doubt (2007) - took about 12 months to produce, without external funding whatso ever - we donated this film, and any income it made from dvd sales, to a community group fighting 1080.
    In regard to Poisoning Paradise (2009)- this one's taken about 18 months to get sorted. It is now 90 minutes long, but should be 6 hours (if all the evidence was to be included).
    Some donations came in for this one, but only a fraction of what it's cost to complete. (If we had funding, it would be sooo much more powerful, and complete).
    Unlike the bureaucrats and departments pushing the ecocide, we are not on hefty salaries, we are not rich, and not getting rich from presenting the important information that ALL people in New Zealand should be aware of. In fact, our work on our documentaries, and presenting them, is ensuring we remain poor! However, we feel an obligation to present the truth, to show what really goes on out in the environment. We see the results, we know the bush, have travelled, and visited national parks and state forests from one end of the country to the other, spending time off the beaten track - we have visited many drops, and been under the choppers as the poison falls, on many occassions, and we are yet to see a single benefit from these poisoning campaigns, in any of the forests we've visited. The poison push in this country is locked into policy.
    The government owns factory, imports the poison, and funds the science that supports it's use. It's that simple.

  5. “There are numerous scientists, academics, and doctors that oppose the lunatic practice of poisoning the ecosystem”.

    Equally there are people of these professions who support 1080 use because it’s not poisoning the ecosystem – but how many do you mean by ‘numerous’?

    Apart from Meads, who did one flawed field study on invertebrates, when it comes to 1080 your scientists/academics/doctors appear to be review-only specialists. The material produced by Weaver, Scanlon, Sherley and the Whiting O’Keefes has total reliance on big impressive-sounding reviews, using select information drawn from existing research to highlight scary ‘maybes’.

    But to use a phrase often parroted here – Not One! of these people seem to ever have designed, conducted and published hypothesis-testing, investigative, quantitative lab or field research about the effects of 1080, or associated ecological aspects of pest animal control, or humaneness.

    Why is it that none of your pet Drs (Not One!) has ever done any actual, directly relevant research, but only summarised and criticised the work of many others who have?

    (wink) If you can find a scientist (any scientist) to say it, must be true eh?

  6. It takes a brave man to speak out against the 1080 industry, as Mr. Meads did. After Meads released his study that demonstrated the insecticide 1080 kills insects, and even after 25 years of scientific service, he was made redundant. I think that the re/searchers involved with the politics revolving around the 1080 industry are very aware of what happens if they speak out against pre-determined outcomes. It's in their best interest to comply with the bias of their peers. If, indeed, the quality of science supporting the 1080 industry is deemed to be of a high standard, New Zealand's educational and scientific community is in poor shape! P.S. Perhaps you could put your name to your comments, it would demonstrate more conviction.

  7. Oh yeah that's right – the big government conspiracy, with (not Dr) Meads as your martyr to the cause. Disregarding that his Whitecliffs study was actually pretty crap in the strictest scientific sense.

    So except for him, you'd have us accept that all the researchers who have published actual studies are biased and too scared to speak out, even those from outside of NZ.

    Personally I think you’re giving these agencies far too much credit in assuming their ability to organise such a conspiracy, let alone sustain it for more than an election term or the next restructure or budget cut. You could always question the integrity of the peer-reviewed science journals who publish the research too.

    Is this conspiracy theory really the best (only?) ‘rationale’ you have for ignoring, or desperately attempting to discredit, every single piece of information that supports the use of 1080?

  8. You raise some good points. I didn't called Mr. Meads "Dr.", by the way - you refered to that title. Mind you, he was a great entomologist, and had intimate knowledge of invertebrates. What's your connection to the industry? Why are you so wedded to the romantic notion that 1080 is a saviour, rather than an effective, broad spectrum insecticide-pesticide?

  9. No inclination either way on 1080. Use it if the best option, use other options if they're better, but decide either way on the best information available.

    You rail against the pro-1080 propaganda but ironically you're using exactly the same tactics. The bollocks flows both ways. As you might have gathered though I think your imported-review-only scientists sort of suck.

  10. I support the view that supports the evidence. The actual evidence - out in the field - not theory presented in scientific papers that is clearly bias, and saturated with assumptions and estimates. For some-one with no inclination either way, you appear to have an intimate knowledge of the research.

  11. The comments are predictable.Anyone who has visited 1080 drop sites will tell of how quiet it is.No bird chorus.There are alternative methods to 1080 but they require physical effort and commitment.two attributes sadly lacking in modern NZ lifestyle.As a casual trapper i support the Graf brothers.Remember,DOC is employed by the people of this nation,and is accountable.

  12. I've read the posts between 'anonymous' and Clyde Graf with curiousity and wonder why 'anonymous' has still not used their name to support their views, which I might add appear ill informed and have an attacking tone?
    Please wake up anonymous and look around NZ's native bush and see/hear the devastation. I was shocked and deeply saddened to come back to NZ last year after more than a decade away and tramp the forests in silence.
    As an aside, congratulations to the Graf Brothers for winning the UK awards with your documentary.

  13. I agree with anonymous, and I wonder... can you honestly say that when you say docs information is untrue and biased, that the same is not true of your own information. They may only present the success stories of 1080, but what is certain is that you only present the bad. I watched your poisoning paradise dvd at school and I noticed a few things one of which was that you said that 30% (appro.) of tomtits were killed in 1 1080 drop but including confidence intervals could be as low as 14% (?) or as high as 50%. The next time you mentioned it in the dvd, your scientist stated that 50% of tomtits WERE killed (not 30%). Yep... I noticed that. Also as hunters/recreationalists yourself, would you not say that you enjoyed hunting? Therefore the loss of deer, etc may benefit the environment but adversely affect you as individuals. As part of your dvd, a lot of footage designed to make us feel sorry for the animals was of dead deer, and while I agree that it should maybe not be happening and of course agree that it is a terrible way to die, I am also aware that deer are pests.
    Good on you for sharing your opinion but for me, your dvd would have made more of an impact if it wasn't so horendously biased!

  14. Also, I too love tramping and have been to many places with my family where 1080 has been dropped... it definately was not quiet, and there definately was a bird chorus (probably it was improved from the 1080 drop(s))