Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Dunne re-elected to parliament

The Hon Peter Dunne was re-elected into parliament on the weekend.
Mr Dunne is the longest, current serving member of parliament, with this term taking him over the 30 year threshold.

UnitedFuture is the only party in government to have the banning of 1080 poison included as one of it's policies.
Congratulations Peter Dunne, and we hope you will choose to continue to advocate for alternatives to the use of aerially spread 1080 poison.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Press Council rule in favour of newspaper's 1080 poison editorial

The following report is from the Peninsula Press, and developed after a complaint was made to the Press Council following a front page editorial on the use of 1080 poison ...  

Following a complaint to the NZ Press Council that this newspapers’ August 18th front page article ‘Where  are all the birds?’ had incited fear in the 1080 debate,  the council adjudicated in favour of the paper, stating:  “ ... newspapers are entitled to encourage debate on issues of interest and importance to their own community – indeed they have a responsibility to undertake that role.”

 The complaint was made by Thomas Everth, Coromandel. We publish the adjudication in full:


Thomas Everth complained about an editorial published in the Peninsula Press (a Coromandel community newspaper) on August 18, 2011.

He cited those principles of the Press Council that refer to accuracy, fairness and balance and to maintaining a distinction between the reporting of facts and the passing of opinion.

His complaint is not upheld.


Headlined “Where are all the birds?” the piece took a highly critical stance against the use of 1080 poison in NZ forests.

In particular, it stressed the dangers of “sublethal contamination” where even if wildlife is not killed outright, the low-level contaminants may create longer term, harmful effects on animal and insect development and reproduction.

It dominated the front page and continued to feature strongly on page three.

The “editorial article” was published under a by line giving the editor’s name.

A footnote stated that it had been written as a “front page editorial” in an attempt “to get to the known ‘facts’ about the controversial pesticide programme” and said that the newspaper welcomed further debate.

The Complaint:

Mr Everth initially complained to the editor (and author of the piece) by telephone and then via a series of e-mails. He accused the editor of “inciting fear and fanning the flames of an already heated 1080 debate”.

In particular, he took issue with the notion that 1080 interfered with and disrupted the endocrine system of wildlife and instead stressed the need for predator control (via 1080) in NZ forests.

He sent the newspaper a scientific research paper which rebutted the allegations that 1080 was an endocrine disrupter.

He suggested that the newspaper owed readers an apology for the “lies and the exaggeration and the baseless scare-mongering”.

When the editor offered Mr Everth the opportunity to write an article opposing and counter-balancing the arguments raised in the editorial, he declined.

As any apology and/or retraction was not forthcoming, he made a formal complaint to the Press Council.

Here, he stressed that the piece was irresponsible, especially given the possibility of violence by anti-1080 activists in the local community

The complainant reiterated his various claims that the newspaper had published “outright lies and made up conjecture” and that the editor’s prevailing argument was a reversal of “the facts”.

The Newspaper’s Response

The editor readily accepted that 1080 poisoning was a contentious issue but he had tried to foster healthy discussion, and when Mr Everth complained, he had offered him considerable space for a counter argument, a 1,000 word reply.

He suggested that the complainant’s vigorous reaction to the editorial exemplified the intense feeling (on both sides) inherent in the 1080 debate.

He denied that the editorial was written to support the pig-hunting lobby which was opposed to the use of 1080 poison.

He added that his original offer to Mr Everth, of space in the newspaper to air his “facts”, remained open.

Discussion and Decision:

In summary, the complainant argues that the editorial was not based on sound science and thus misled its readers, and further, that its publication was irresponsible, given the entrenched positions held in the local community.

The Press Council acknowledges the research forwarded by Mr Everth but the Council cannot adjudicate on the accuracy of competing claims surrounding the use of 1080 poison. Each “side” attacks the science and research cited by the opposition.

In 2009, the Council noted “Readers wanting to investigate the veracity of the claims and counter-claims about 1080 would be wise to read widely on the issue rather than rely on the content of one article”.

As far as the second part of his argument is concerned, the Press Council takes a different view and stresses that newspapers are entitled to encourage debate on issues of interest and importance to their own community – indeed they have a responsibility to undertake that role.

The Council is of the view that more could have been done to stress that this front page piece was in fact an editorial and thus opinion right from the outset,   though it noted it was termed “editorial” both within the text and at the end.

However, the editor’s claim that he was trying to stimulate discussion about an important local issue was supported by a footnote which clearly signalled that further comment would be welcomed.

Another signpost that the debate would continue was given – readers were told that a Ministry of Agriculture response to the editorial would be published later. That response duly appeared, in the newspaper’s Comment and Opinion page, the following week.

The complainant was given the chance to compose a response countering the editor’s opinions, and at some length, but he declined.

Finally, the Press Council has often upheld the right of an editor to adopt a strong stance and advocate a particular position; in short, to advance their own point of view.

Inevitably, some will disagree with that stance, even be offended by the opinions expressed or by how they were expressed, but that is an inherent aspect of freedom of speech.

Of course, there would be grounds for complaint if the editorial contained grievous errors of fact, or deliberately misled or misinformed readers. But, as noted above, the Council is simply unable to determine the “facts” in this ongoing debate, and it can see no evidence at all of any deliberate or wilful attempt to mislead or misinform.

The complaint is not upheld:

Press Council members considering this complaint were Barry Paterson, Pip Bruce Ferguson, Kate Coughlan, Chris Darlow, Sandy Gill, Keith Lees, Clive Lind, John Roughan, Lynn Scott and Stephen Stewart.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

1080 Poison Protestors Have Charges Dismissed

Photo - Katie Earnshaw
It is not unusual to have a police presence at 1080 poison drops in New Zealand. People have been voicing their concerns about the use of aerially applied 1080 poison for many years. Their concerns have been  mostly ignored. As a result, protesting has become a more regular occurrence.

On the 15th of June, 2010, 6 protestors - Daniel Hunt, Phillip Patterson, Fritz Felling, John Lewis, Amy C****, and Steven Hoy - were arrested and charged under the Biosecurity Act for obstructing a 1080 poison operation. Daniel Hunt was also charged under the Civil Aviation Act. Two others, photographer Katie Earnshaw, and Daniel Dick, were reportedly part of the protest group, but not charged.
On the day of the protests spokesperson for the group - Peter Salter - summed up the situation by stating "if arrested, they're being arrested for a good cause!"
Photo - Katie Earnshaw
On November 4, 2011, Judge P R Kellar ordered the charges against Daniel Hunt, John Lewis and Steven Hoy, be dismissed. The defendants were dismissed without conviction. 

Two other protestors arrested and charged at the same poison operation, have elected to be heard by jury. Their court case is still pending. Amy C**** was granted diversion.

This result by Judge Kellar is a significant victory for all those people who have stood up for an issue that is in need of urgent attention. 1080 poison is killing off New Zealand ecosystems (plenty of evidence included on this blog, alone), and putting endangered species at risk of extinction. Localised species extinction is already evident in some regions that have had intensive poisoning. 
Photo - Katie Earnshaw
The dust generated from the poison operations is known to travel at least 500 metres from drop-zone boundaries. 
   Poison signs are placed at all access points into national parks, tracks, road entrances, and camp grounds.
1080 poison is aerially distributed in 2 forms of food - cereal pellets and carrot pieces, and is attractive not only to the target species - rats and possums - but to many other forest dwelling wildlife.
Here, carrot pieces are being prepared for aerial distribution across the Kahurangi National Park.
1080 poison is a cruel killer. It kills not only native wildlife, but other forest animals as well. The poison is retained in the carcasses of its victims, and once eaten, can then kill the next feeder up the food-chain. 1080 poison is also an insecticide, often killing insectivorous birds after they've eaten insects that have consumed the poison. Pets, livestock and other non-target species are often victims. It is estimated by scientists that approximately 20,000 deer are killed in 1080 poison drops, every year!
 To watch a documentary on the use of 1080 poison in New Zealand, please click here. Poisoning Paradise

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Little Penguins Saved by Target Specific Eradication Project

A campaign to save Little Penguins on Philip Island is showing signs of success.

Foxes are the primary threat to the penguins and other small, native mammals.  The team in charge of the eradication project use a variety of methods to target the foxes - baiting, spotlighting, trapping and fumigating dens during fox-breeding season.

The eradication team have been working on the nature park for 5 years, and no penguins deaths have been reported in the last 2 years.

The following excerpt is from the story ...

The program recently received the Banksia Land and Biodiversity Award for its innovative methods of eradication, recognising the program's potential to inspire other efforts to battle introduced pests.

Stuart and his colleagues undertook baiting, spotlighting, trapping and fumigating dens during fox-breeding season, but their innovation was the trialling of a new drug to reduced the pest's ability to breed.

Called cabergoline, the drug is a remedy commonly used to treat Parkinson's disease in humans. It terminates pregnancies in female foxes but doesn't kill the fox itself. Stuart says it is used in areas where traditional 1080 - lethal poison used in baiting - may harm native wildlife too.

To view a documentary on 1080 poison use in New Zealand - Click Here

Thursday, November 17, 2011

65 Dogs Killed by 1080 Poison in a Single Year

In her report on the use of 1080 in New Zealand, released earlier this year, the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment (PCE) made an astounding claim by stating that only 8 dogs were known to have been poisoned by 1080 in the last 4 years.

The Comment caused outrage in rural communities, where it is difficult to find a person who doesn't know someone who has had a dog poisoned.

The following story was released yesterday by Dr Jo Pollard. At Least 65 dogs in a Year Poisoned by 1080 in New Zealand.

To watch the documentary about 1080 poison in New Zealand - Poisoning Paradise Click Here

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Bureaucracy and Ignorance Putting Farming Sector at Risk

The following story appeared in the Waikato Times, today. It exemplifies the 1080 poison industry in New Zealand, and just goes to show that ignorance, and bureaucracy are driving its continued use in the New Zealand farming sector - at the expense of the environment.

Federated Farmers are, in general, a pro-1080 poison organisation, and choose to ignore the growing scientific evidence proving that the use of 1080 poison is not only harming New Zealand ecosystems and wildlife, but also  putting at risk - exports, tourism, and image. Click here to read the story Spare the 1080, destroy the habitat 

To watch a documentary highlighting 1080 poison use in New Zealand, click here Poisoning Paradise

Friday, November 11, 2011

Aerially Applied Poison found in Blue Cod

Brodifacoum rat poison has been detected in Blue Cod after an aerial poison operation was carried out across Ulva Island, in August, and a follow up drop in September.

The drop was targeting rats, but many birds, some endangered, are expected to have been killed. Monitoring is reportedly being carried out on endemic robin, saddleback, and weka.

30 blue cod were being monitored, and the poison has so far been detected in 2 of them. Brodifacoum is lethal to aquatic life, and extremely persistent.
After a similar drop last year across Rangitoto Island, off the shores of Auckland, many hundreds of native birds were killed. The poison was detected in penguins, and also suspected of killing fish-life, many dolphins, and a whale.

Ulva Island was declared rat-free in 1997, after successful trapping programs. However, rats were detected on the island again last year, so the Department of Conservation decided that an aerial operation was the best way to ensure the rats are eradicated again.

The operation has caused a lot of controversy, with many arguing that with a land area of around 600 acres, it could easily be managed with trapping and bait stations, like it was in 1997, and that the kill of native wildlife will be too great to warrant an aerial poisoning operation.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

New 1080 Science Website a Powerhouse of Research Talent

A group of scientists have joined together to present the facts and evidence of 1080 poison use in New Zealand.

The new website, www.1080science.co.nz, assembles the findings of the scientists, and other extensive research and facts.

Honest New Zealand politicians, researchers and leaders need no longer take bureaucrats advice, at face value. Fully referenced data and information is now presented in an easy to access way - and it's a damning accumulation of evidence.

To read full story, Click Here.

To view Poisoning Paradise - Click Here

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Disturbing new evidence - 1080 poison industry built on willful blindness

The truth about aerial-dropped 1080-poisoned food    02/11/2011

By Dr Alexis Pietak (Dr Alexis Pietak is a biomedical research scientist, biophysicist, and author who lived in New Zealand from February 2005- May 2011. More information about Dr Pietak can be found at: www.omecha..org) 

Aerial-dropped 1080-poisoned food is a hotly contested issue. Anti-1080 proponents claim that the widespread, uncontrolled distribution of highly lethal food into wilderness ecosystems has the capacity to decimate certain bird populations and wreak ecological havoc. Advocates claim that 1080-poisoned food is selective for mammals, and even if bird deaths do occur, the benefits of mammalian predator removal apparently outweigh the risk of bird deaths. According to advocates, aerial-dropped 1080-poisoned food is the only way to protect New Zealand’s last stands of flora and fauna, and must be used to control bovine tuberculosis in New Zealand’s cattle and deer herds. Who is right? What is the truth about aerial-dropped 1080-poisoned food?

Sticking to the facts

Science, when used correctly, represents humanity’s best tool for assessing issues from an objective, rather than emotional position. If we want to consider the 1080 debate from a scientific perspective, it’s first important to identify the main hypotheses that we’re looking for evidence to support. A hypothesis is a best guess at the actual nature of a situation given the information available. Focusing on the issue of New Zealand’s bird life, there are two hypotheses maintained by aerial 1080 advocates. The first is that aerial-dropped 1080-poisoned food is selective to mammals like rats and possums, and therefore poses a minimal risk of killing birds. The second hypothesis is that even in situations where 1080-related bird deaths do occur, in the longer term a bird population benefits from enhanced survival and breeding with the extensive eradication of mammalian predators.

Fortunately, the issue of aerial-dropped 1080-poisoned food readily lends itself to an objective assessment using scientifically-based considerations and experiments. Scientific researchers routinely design experiments, and use standard statistical analyses on the resulting observations, to obtain hard-data estimates of the risks/benefits to individuals of a population when they’re exposed to a factor like a virus, toxin, or lifestyle habit. While an ecosystem represents an arguably more complex, multifactorial, and difficult system to control, the risks/benefits of aerial poison operations to New Zealand’s birds can still be assessed using the very same methods wielded by medical researchers.

As a trained researcher who has looked into the scientific evidence intended to support the hypotheses of aerial-dropped 1080-poisoned food advocates, I can tell you I’m afraid for what’s happened and what’s happening to New Zealand’s ecosystems. Much of the work that has been done, and the quality of data that exists to support the main claims of the aerial-dropped 1080-poisoned food advocates, does not stand up to basic scrutiny. I’d like to share with the most important holes in the evidence base supporting aerial-dropped 1080-poisoned food. In seeing how the evidence stacks up, or fails to stack up, you will hopefully be inspired to help put an immediate stop to aerial-dropped poisoned food in New Zealand.

Does 1080-poisoned food select for mammals?

Let’s start with an easy case. The 1080-poisoned food advocating agencies (DoC and AHB) have readily proclaimed 1080-poisoned food to be selective for mammals, therefore apparently making it safe for New Zealand’s birds. We know this from statements made directly by the DoC such as:

New Zealand is well placed to use 1080 because it specifically targets mammals — meaning we can target the predators and pests with limited impact on our native wildlife.”(1) 

Similarly, in response to the question of why New Zealand is the only country to use so much compound 1080, and in such uncontrolled manners, the DoC has responded:

Because New Zealand has no native terrestrial mammals except for two species of bat, we are well placed to use a toxin that targets mammals. Other countries which have native mammals that they want to protect use 1080 differently to New Zealand.”(1, 2)

On the other hand, different scientists have proclaimed 1080 to be acutely lethal to mammals and birds alike.(3). Is there any reasoning we could call upon to come to an objective decision about whether or not we should expect 1080-poisoned food to be selective for mammals? Well, yes, I think it’s easy to settle this issue objectively! The only rationale we need to agree on is that the selectivity of a poisoned food depends on how much of it a target animal would have to eat in comparison to something we don’t want to be killed. So, if a possum needed to eat 1% of its normal daily food intake in 1080-poisoned food, while a bird needed to eat 200% of its normal daily food intake, we could take this as an indication that the 1080-poisoned food is indeed selective for possums, and relatively harmless to the bird. To put it into human terms, the caffeine in coffee is toxic to humans, but only if we drink about 90 cups within a few hours. Since this would be very hard to do, we don’t consider coffee to be a lethal substance to humans. In fact, we consume it readily. Yet, if you gave your cat a quarter cup of coffee, he would likely up and die, without any antidote. By this line of reasoning, we’d say coffee is a toxin selective to cats and dogs, but not humans.

The lethal dose of 1080 for possums ranges from 0.8 to 1.5 mg/kg (4). The lethal dose of 1080 for New Zealand birds is indeed higher than that of possums, ranging from 6.9 to 9.5 mg/kg (5), and according to Canadian toxicologists may be as high as 15 mg/kg3. If we take into consideration the average body weights of possums, a small bird such as a tomtit, and a larger bird like a kea; the total daily mass of food consumed by each of these creatures (6); the lethal dose of 1080 for each creature considering both the normal (6.9 mg/kg) and high (15 mg/kg) ranges of 1080 tolerance for birds; and the concentration of compound 1080 used in cereal pellets and carrot bait (typically 1.5 g/kg), we can estimate the amount of 1080-poisoned food each creature needs to eat to reach a lethal dose in relation to its normal food intake.

The results don’t look so good for birds! Possums need only consume 0.4 % of their daily food ration in 1080-poisoned food, yet a smaller tomtit-sized bird with normal to high tolerance need only consume 0.6 to 1.2 % of its daily food intake to reach a lethal dose. A larger kea-sized bird would require only 6 to 12.5% of their daily food ration in 1080-poisoned food to reach a lethal dose. Clearly, 1080-poisoned food, as used in New Zealand’s aerial poison drops, has the capacity to easily kill both mammals and birds if it’s ingested in quantities that are small relative to the normal eating habits of these creatures.

Poisoned food advocates have also claimed that the addition of cinnamon scent and colouring the poisoned food green deter birds from ingesting the lethal pellets. However, studies examining bird preference to baits with and without cinnamon have not found evidence that birds are deterred by cinnamon (7). In a study of bird feeding on non-toxic cereal bait pellets tagged with fluorescent-dye, green baits were found to have been readily eaten by a number of bird species (8). Moreover, it’s been shown that an insect feeding on 1080 pellets can remain alive while accumulating enough 1080 toxin within itself to serve as a lethal dose to most insect eating (insectivorous) birds receiving as little as 6.4% of their daily insect ration (5), which makes the type of bait irrelevant.

So no, sadly, there are no reasons to believe food poisoned with 1080 is selective for mammals. Unintended deaths of a variety of bird species remain a distinct and deeply troubling possibility considering 2000-5000 kg of pure 1080, enough to kill a biomass of 14 to 35 million humans, is currently dumped into New Zealand’s ecosystems every year!

The quality of scientific evidence matters!

Next we need to consider the quality of scientific evidence that’s being used to support the hypothesis of low bird death risk with aerial-dropped 1080-poisoned food. The academic community has previously determined that the only reliable way to assess bird deaths from aerial-dropped poisoned food is to capture birds, mark them with a coloured band or radio transmitter, release them, and look for them after the poisoned food drop (9-11). This is called a ‘mark-recapture’ method. Other methods, such as the 5 minute bird call and count techniques often mentioned in DoC’s reports, produce nonsensical data unless the whole bird population is wiped out after a poison drop. The reason for this is that using non-marked techniques, differences in bird behaviour cannot be separated from differences in bird abundance. The weather, presence of a human observer, and unknown bird behaviours are all factors causing daily sightings to go up or down independent of actual bird populations. In short, mark-recapture experiments are considered to be the only way to get a reliable assessment of bird death risk with aerial-dropped poisoned food exposure.

The DoC has in fact been performing mark-recapture experiments before and after aerial-dropped 1080-poisoned food operations. A compilation of 23 years of these mark-recapture experiments, representing all 48 experiments assessing 13 unique bird species (4 of them kiwi) was made by DoC scientists Clare Veltman and Ian Westbrooke in a paper released earlier this year (12). I added in one more experiment concerning the fate of tagged Okarito kea (13), to bring the data set up to 49 experiments. The great thing about this compiled mark-recapture data set is it allows us to assess the quality of data collected in experiments over the years. The data represents the very best evidence available to indicate whether or not aerial dropped 1080-poisoned food kills birds.

Unfortunately, there are severe problems with the majority of these experiments. Keep in mind that these experiments intended to find out the actual proportion of a whole bird population that’s been killed by aerial-dropped 1080-poisoned food from a pre-selected sample of a few individuals that were marked and observed. Now, if you wished to determine the fraction of the whole New Zealand population that supports 1080, and you asked two people what they thought, would you expect this give you a good assessment of the opinion of the remaining 4.4 million? No, probably not. You probably realize that to get some kind of realistic assessment, you’ll have to ask many more people to find out the actual proportion.

It’s the same thing for the number of birds that are surveyed in an aerial 1080 operation. Since we’re talking about capturing and marking live, wild, fragile birds, it’s clearly desirable to keep study numbers to a minimum. However, if the sample size of an experimental group becomes too small it becomes impossible to differentiate the effects of exposure to 1080-poisoned food from random chance. The serious danger of choosing sample sizes that are too small is the very real risk of assuming there is no effect of a 1080-poisoned food exposure when in reality there are significant deaths! Before the experiment begins, scientific researchers commonly use statistical methods to estimate the minimum number of individuals in each group required to detect specific death rates with statistical confidence (14,15). Unfortunately, DoC scientists have apparently not known this, sometimes only tagging 1 or 2 birds in an ‘experiment’ to try and find out the effects of 1080-poisoned food on a whole bird population!

The way to look at the quality of the existing experimental data is to calculate something called 95% confidence intervals on each measure of bird death in each experiment (16). I have plotted these up for you in Figure 1 for the 23 years of compiled mark-recapture data. These 95% confidence intervals tell us that many of these experiments have been completely bunk! Some experiments are unable to pinpoint the actual death rate within an interval spanning from nearly 0 to 100% (see Morepork E2 in Figure 1)! Of the 49 experiments, 18 out of 49 (or 37%) could not rule out a death rate of 50%, and 8 out of 49 (16%) could not rule out a death rate of 80%. This means that even in experiments where no deaths were observed, high death rates cannot be ruled out in the actual whole treated population.

Figure 1: The 95% confidence intervals for the death rate of 1080-poisoned food exposed birds in 49 mark-recapture experiments compiled over 25 years. A black dot represents the basic death rate for a particular experiment. The range of the 95% confidence interval for each death rate is shown as a red bar. With 95% chance, one can expect to find the actual death rate within the confidence interval. A very large 95% confidence interval indicates a poorly designed experiment with very small sample size. For very small sample size and very large 95% confidence interval (e.g. MOREPORK E2), the actual death rate may exist nearly anywhere between 0 and 100%, making the experiment completely ineffectual.
Another thing about the scientific evidence attempting to support the hypothesis of low bird deaths with aerial-dropped 1080-poisoned food is the failure to study the majority of birds that can be identified at high risk from poisoning as they’ve previously been found dead after an aerial 1080 operation. Out of 31 bird species (19 New Zealand natives) that have been found dead after aerial-dropped poisoned food operations, only 8 have been studied! To put this into human terms, it’s as if there’s a dinner party where we suspect the roast beef is poisoned. Out of 100 guests that come to the party, 20 are strict vegetarians. After the party, we call up the 20 vegetarians to see how they’re doing. Is it a surprise to find out they’re all OK? Furthermore, we don’t pay attention to reports of deaths in the remaining 80 potentially roast-beef eating guests. As a result of this shoddy investigation, we conclude the roast beef is safe. Arguably, the DoC have studied and put forth the inconclusive data from individuals least likely to be poisoned in an aerial-dropped 1080-poisoned food operation.

Evidence for high death rates

In my own calculations with the set of 23 years of compiled data, I pooled data from experiments for the same bird species using the same bait type (carrot or cereal pellet) to get some kind of statistically valid estimate of bird deaths in the 13 species studied by mark-recapture methods. The results of pooling according to bird and bait type showed that in the tomtit and robin groups exposed to 1080-poisoned carrot bait, the death rate for tomtits may be up to 96% and a death rate for robins up to 42%! In cereal pellet operations, a lower death rate of up to 18% was indicated for tomtits, while a similar death rate of up to 35% was found for robins. Notably, the tomtit and robin represent only 2 studied birds of 16 insectivorous bird species in New Zealand (17). Insectivores can be identified to be at risk of poisoning as they have been found dead after aerial 1080-poisoned food operations, and due to the risk of secondary poisoning through the insects they base their diets on5. The effects of aerial 1080 to the remaining 14 insectivorous bird species remain complete unknowns.

In addition to tomtits and robins, another bird species where significant 1080-related deaths were observed was the kea. The kea’s numbers on planet Earth stand as low as 1,000 to 5,000 (18, 19). My analysis of the compiled data set revealed a 1080-related death rate of up to 37% for kea in cereal pellet operations. The effects of carrot operations on kea have never been studied. A death rate as high as 37% would be extremely damaging for a slow to recover population species such as the kea, which already have such low populations. Moreover, the kea and weka were the only 2 omnivores studied of 21 omnivorous bird species in New Zealand17! Omnivores can easily be identified as high poisoning risk due to their innate tendency to ingest a wide variety of food types, and their observed deaths after aerial 1080-poisoned food operations. Again, what is happening to the remaining 19 omnivorous bird species in aerial-dropped poisoned food operations remains a mystery.

Long-term benefits of aerial 1080?

Next we can consider evidence supporting the hypothesis that benefits to birds outweigh the risks. In reality, an extremely low number of reports have explored long-term effects of aerial-dropped poisoned food to birds. The potential benefits of a 1080-poisoned food operation to a particular bird species are indicated by a decreased death risk to a 1080-poisoned food exposed population. To evaluate long-term benefits, an unexposed control group is essential, as well as longer-term follow ups of the tagged birds at 1 to 4 years after the 1080-poisoned food operation. The unexposed control group gives the death risk rate by natural factors, including predation. Therefore, by simply including a longer-term assessment of the very same experiment that had already been invested in, basic statistics (called relative risk ratios (20)) can be used to provide concrete evidence of the relative short-term risks, and some of the potential long-term benefits, of an aerial 1080-poisoned food operation to a particular bird species.

Unfortunately, in the 23 years of collected data a control group has rarely been used at all, with 36 of 49 experiments (or 74%) performed without a control! This is appalling scientific practice! Of those experiments that used controls, the vast majority of experiments followed-up tagged birds to only 3 weeks after the poison operation (12). The one report I located that followed up birds 25 months after the poison operation found no difference in the lifespan of birds in 1080-treated and untreated areas, indicating no survival benefit at all (21).

Increased breeding success with aerial 1080-poisoned food induced predator removal might benefit specific bird populations in the long term. However, I could find only 3 studies reporting on nesting success of 4 bird species after aerial 1080-poisoned food operations (21-23). Two of these 3 studies concluded with no significant differences in breeding success! For instance, in spite of a high death rate observed for tomtits in some aerial-1080 operations, the breeding success of tomtits in an aerial 1080 treated area was not significantly different from that of an untreated area (23). The breeding success of kaka was also not found to be significantly different with 1080 treatment (21). Only kereru and robins showed increased breeding success in one to two breeding seasons following 1080 treatment (21, 22). There is no information at all that looks at the longer term 3-4 year adult lifespan or breeding success of New Zealand’s birds with aerial dropped 1080-poisoned food. At best, there is only very minimal evidence regarding longer term benefits of an aerial 1080-poisoned food operation in terms of breeding success.

Long-term benefits are not actually expected with aerial-dropped 1080-poisoned food due to the serious unanticipated side-effects that have been observed. A wilderness is a complex system of many interrelated living beings that depend upon, and compete with one another, for survival. Disrupting the balance of that system with the eradication of a pest species can result in serious and unexpected consequences (24). The outstanding breeding capacity of rats, and the complexities of ecosystem dynamics, means rat populations can recover from over 90% kill rates to levels as much as 5 times higher than before an aerial 1080-poison operation, and remain high for up to 6 years! (25) Increases in the number of stoats have also been observed in aerial 1080-treated areas (21). Another documented unexpected side effect of aerial 1080 operations was stoat prey switching from a diet consisting primarily (74%) of rats and minimal birds (3%) to one consisting heavily (39%) of birds after the 1080-poisoned food drop (26). Bird species recover much more slowly than their rodent predators (27). These unanticipated side-effects observed after aerial 1080 operations indicate increased predation and decreased breeding success for birds in the longer-term.

Aerial-dropped poisoned food: creating an ecosystem of ‘weeds’?

Aerial-dropped poisoned food is inherently different from other methods of pest control as it represents a single pulse of intense, short-duration predator control that is sporadically applied after 2 to 7 years. In ecological theory, the idea of ‘k’ and ‘r’ selected species has been kicking around for a while (28). An ‘r-selected’ species is quick to reproduce and makes many offspring, with the rat being a prime example. R-selected species are what we commonly call ‘weedy’ species.. On the other hand, ‘k-selected’ species are slower to reproduce and have fewer offspring, but live longer and are better able to compete for limited resources, with prime New Zealand examples being endemic birds like the kea. R-selected species dominate in unstable environments and can tolerate huge changes in their population. K-selected species require stable environments and have stable populations that do not tolerate large changes with environmental instability.

The very intense killing-pulse of aerial-dropped 1080-poisoned food is likely creating a highly unstable environment that will select for quick to reproduce ‘r-selected’ species while decimating populations of slow-to-recover ‘k-selected’ species. Therefore, a fundamental change in the basic constitution of New Zealand’s aerial 1080-treated ecosystems, one which favours weedy species like rats and blackbirds, may be underway. This line of reasoning accounts for the sustained, abnormally high rat populations observed after aerial 1080-poisoned food drops (25).

A viable alternative to aerial-dropped poisoned food is continuous mammalian pest control using controlled-access bait stations and human hunting/trapping of target species (possums, rats, and stoats). These controlled, continuous methods of mammalian pest control have already been shown to be an effective means to recover populations of fragile bird species such as the kaka (29).

Over a period of about 30 years, unmanaged possums also change the constitution of a New Zealand forest by reducing the number of trees like fuchsia, rata, and kamahi, which are replaced by other species in correlation with possum population die-back (30). Aerial-dropped 1080-poisoned food may be exerting an even more profound change in the constitution of New Zealand’s forests by selecting for the weediest mammal and bird species.


Since aerial 1080-poisoned food drops have been going on since 1956, with accelerated use from the 1990’s and through to this present day, we’d certainly hope that the best scientific evidence exists to support the main claims of 1080-advocates. By now it should be easy to take a look at this solid body of evidence and conclude that indeed, the evidence generally shows that aerial-dropped poisoned food is selective for mammals, poses minimal mortality risks to birds, and that long term benefits outweigh the risks. Unfortunately, this just isn’t the case.
There are no grounds to assume 1080-poisoned food is selective for mammals, with birds requiring only 0.6-12.5% of their daily food ration in 1080-poisoned bait to obtain a lethal dose.

Moreover, the existing hard data set compiling 23 years of experimental mark-recapture data examining the impacts of poisoned food operations to a variety of bird species was found to be deeply flawed due to i) the lack of a control group in the majority of experiments, ii) the use of very small study groups lacking statistical robustness, and iii) the very short duration of experiments.

Statistical analysis of the hard data set revealed significantly high death rates and risk of death for the two insectivorous birds studied (tomtit and robin) and one of the two omnivorous birds studied (kea), with large unknowns for the fate other insectivorous and omnivorous bird species in New Zealand.

Aerial-dropped 1080-poisoned food cannot even be proven responsible for the observed drop in Tb infections in New Zealand’s herds, since more extensive aerial-dropped poison food operations were introduced at the same time as improved herd management techniques. Moreover, we cannot overlook the fact that major countries in North America and Europe have obtained a Tb-free status without resorting to killing off all of their native wildlife.

In conclusion, there is insubstantial hard data evidence to support the hypothesis of the mammalian selectivity of 1080-poisoned food, its low risk to a wide array of bird species, or to indicate long term benefits to any bird species. In contrast, there are indications that aerial 1080-operations may decimate certain endemic bird populations and fundamentally disrupt ecosystem dynamics, favouring weedy species like rats. As the risks of toxin persistence and secondary poisoning are higher for alternative toxins such as the anti-coagulants brodifacoum and pindone, an immediate moratorium on all aerial-dropped poisoned food operations is warranted.

Continuous, controlled bait access methods for mammalian predator control (bait stations and trapping) are recommended as viable alternatives to aerial-dropped poisoned food.

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The Truth about aerial-dropped 1080-poisoned food by Alexis Mari Pietak is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. This means you are free to copy, distribute, and transmit this work as you wish. The work cannot be modified, used for commercial applications, and the author must be credited when it is used.


Tuesday, November 1, 2011

How the PCE assessment misled Parliament and New Zealanders

Joint press release by Dr J.C. Pollard and New Zealand Wildlands Biodiversity Management Society.

How the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment’s assessment of 1080 poison misled Parliament and New Zealanders

New Zealand has an extraordinary culture of toxin use. Our own environmental watchdog, the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment (PCE, Dr Jan Wright) declared in June that we need to spread more 1080 poison aerially across native forests to save birds, and that we need it to help the dairy and forestry industries too.(1) Signs warning of cyanide, pindone and 1080 poison are a standard feature in rural areas. Public notices warn of diquat operations in lakes, and contractors spray broad-spectrum herbicides across our precious braided riverbeds.

Those with vested interests (the Animal Health Board (AHB), Department of Conservation (DoC), Regional Councils and their contractors), and the peculiar breed of greenie who thinks that we should rid the country of every imported species at any cost (seemingly Forest & Bird and Green Party members), defend 1080 poison fervently; as a perfect broad spectrum, non-selective poison, albeit a crude and dangerous tool, with which to achieve their aims. However people who wish to learn about 1080 poison will find misreported facts, wilful blindness and an appalling lack of research supporting its use.

“Another scientist in Dunedin and I independently discovered the horrors of 1080  when we read the material collected by ERMA for its evaluation of this poison in 2007”, said Dr J.C. Pollard. “Unknown to each other, we each embarked on a project that was huge and time-consuming, determined to get this information in front of other members of the public. My project consisted of an ‘index’ of 1624  quotes straight from the documents that ERMA’s Agency used, divided into 49 topics  (e.g. biodegradation, invertebrates, frogs, Tb).(2)  At the end of each topic, quotes from the ERMA Committee’s Decision show its clear bias towards 1080 use, despite obvious risks and an almost complete lack of data. Alexis Pietak’s project(2) was a brilliant review of the research on 1080, showing its bias and lack of validity, and the death records of native birds that show insectivores, omnivores and carnivores are especially vulnerable to 1080 poison.

Meanwhile in the North Island, scientists Pat and Quinn Whiting-O’Keefe had embarked on their own crusade to educate the public that research needed to have some scientific merit and DoC’s research on 1080 had none whatsoever.(2)

“Our work has been embraced by the anti-1080 community but among the general public there is a tendency to believe the PR from DoC and AHB fed to the media”, said Dr Pollard. This is hardly surprising given that the trusting public are likely to have faith in government departments, especially one with high profile, professional publicity campaigns.

 Mr Graham A. Sperry, speaking on behalf of the NZ Wildlands Biodiversity Management Society (NZWBMS) agrees and expressed the opinion that “Many concerned public consider parts of the government as bordering on disreputable because of the activities of DoC and the AHB with regard to poison use.” He gave as an example “The AHB is allocated  tens of millions of dollars of public funds each year, and yet they were set up as a Charitable Society which is not a government entity, and as such are not required to reveal any details of their costs. Contractors who are hired by the AHB directly or indirectly through contracting regional councils have been accused of disguising compensatory payments resulting from incorrect applications of poison”, said Mr Sperry. “Obfuscation of cost reporting may be the reason why the PCE report is so misleading in its comparisons of aerial 1080 poisoning to alternative ground based methods” he said.

Mr Sperry was emphatic that “the exemptions, for more than a decade, of the AHB, even though funded by the public purse, from answering enquiries under the provisions of the Official Information Act, coupled with it also being exempted from investigation by the Ombudsmen have led the public and the NZWBM society to conclude the AHB has plenty to hide. The mistrust of the AHB and the successive governments which created and protect it from public scrutiny has grown particularly since the ERMA review of 1080 in 2006/7”, he said.  Mr Sperry made a further comment that “The PCE report specifically excluded investigating several important issues, including most of the AHB activities involving 1080 poison, even though the AHB is the major user, especially on DoC’s public lands, Forest Parks and National Parks”. In the introduction to the report it was stated that “This report does not cover the AHB’s actions in controlling bovine tuberculosis (TB) in any detail”. Also lacking is adequate recognition of the substantial cost recovery available for ground based control through fur and meat harvesting.

Meanwhile, DoC’s claims about the benefits of 1080 are wishful thinking, not borne out by research. Here’s an example. In an assessment of a 51, 000 ha planned aerial drop of pindone and 1080 to kill rabbits in South Canterbury, the DoC manager wrote: “The disturbance of ‘normal’ predator-prey relationships between the introduced and native fauna of the control area...is not clearly understood in terms of cause and effect but the overall net effect on the ecosystem is one of profound benefit due to the successful control of rabbits” (DoC, 2008). However, there was no sign of this hoped-for benefit when research was carried out by Landcare: “Our hypothesis that rabbits reduce the abundance of ground fauna by reducing vegetation, and by providing prey for mammalian predators (cats and ferrets) that consume ground fauna as secondary prey, was not supported” (Norbury et al., 2009). What a shame the Government did not think instead to support the growing rabbit-based industry in this area. At least four major companies are using South Canterbury rabbit meat to supply domestic and overseas markets.

Dr Pollard went on to say “Dr Wright’s assessment of 1080 poison is merely a collection of these wishful DoC thoughts and when you examine the studies she cited to back them up you find that NZ ecologists tell a far different story”(2) . “Dr Wright ignored their repeated warnings that aerial 1080 results in increased numbers and impacts of rats and other invasive feral species, including cats and stoats. She failed to note that the studies showed it was more effective to use continuous control and a variety of ground based techniques to control rats and stoats, than aerial 1080. Her cited papers failed to support her claim that 1080 poison was beneficial to bird populations, and even the studies on trees failed to show much or any benefit from possum control (with some negative effects, e.g. reduced fruitfall (attributed to rats) and the death of mistletoe plants). She didn’t admit that there was so little information on effects of 1080 on native frogs and reptiles that ERMA was unable to assess the risks. Or that the very small amount of information on aquatic environments, invertebrates, plants and micro-organisms indicates that 1080 may have severe effects on them.”

Dr Pollard continued; “I suspect the PCE didn’t even read Suren & Lambert’s (2006) study that she used to claim 1080 had not harmed populations of freshwater fish. In fact the study was unable to conclude anything about populations of fish. The study was on the impact of 1080 leaching from baits in bags 10m and 100m upstream from cages containing fish. During the experiment some of the cages were stolen, many fish escaped, and deaths were blamed on high rainfall. Overall there was no evidence of an effect of the leached 1080 on the caged fish; but the researchers did find effects of the leached 1080 on freshwater invertebrates, which they decided to discount as not being ‘ecologically significant’.”

“Another paper I think the PCE must have left it up to staff to read was the one used to claim that scientists had assessed 1080 as being ‘moderately humane’ (Beausoleil et al., 2010)”, said Dr Pollard. “This is quite misleading because 1080 is a very cruel poison. In the report cited, the scientists actually said that the word ‘humaneness’ should be replaced with ‘animal welfare impact’ because truly humane control methods are rare. It stated that 1080 had a severe to extreme impact lasting for hours, and because of this it was rated as ‘intermediate’ between cyanide (which causes rapid loss of consciousness and death) at one end of the scale and anticoagulants such as  brodifacoum (which has a severe to extreme impact for days to weeks) at the other end. Having an intermediate impact does not amount to being moderately humane.”

Again the PCE’s claim that we “do not need more water samples” is naive. A reliable method for assessing 1080 contamination of water supplies has not been used historically, as noted by ERMA. Such a method should be identified and used extensively because of the risk to human health and exports: 1080 is known to spread uncontrollably and to pass into both meat and milk, and to persist chronically, for example in dry environments and in carcasses. In mammals, sub-lethal doses of 1080 cause birth deformities, reproductive disorders and damage the heart and other organs. Claims that 1080 does not cause cancer come from a single study on mutation in mice, of which ERMA was unable to get a full copy.

The PCE glossed over the use of 1080 in Tb control, stating only that it would be much more difficult and expensive without it. However research shows that ground control of wildlife Tb carriers is likely to be more effective in protecting dairy herds than aerial poisoning of possums(2). With ground control, Tb can be monitored and targeted in the full range of species affected and specifically where it places livestock at risk. The carcasses of infected pests, a potential source of infection for remaining wildlife, can be removed. Farm boundaries, and our commercial exotic forests are normally readily accessible for ground control of pests without the need for aerial broadcast poisoning.

Dr Pollard, The NZ Wildlands Biodiversity Management Society and many citizens opposed to the use of 1080 and other broad-spectrum poisons contend that the use of aerial 1080 should be stopped until there is compelling evidence that it is not damaging our native ecosystems or causing health problems. Considering the scale of the risk this practice imposes, valid research demonstrating clear benefits would be expected to underlie its on-going use. “The PCE did not manage to find such research. In fact she found so little substance she was forced to call her assessment ‘not overly technical’” said Dr Pollard.

The facts need to be out and for this reason scientists such as Drs Pollard, Pietak, and Whiting-O’Keefe, and groups like NZWBMS continue to expose them.

A formal complaint about the misleading content of the PCE report was jointly presented by the NZWBMS and Dr Pollard to The Speaker of the House of Representatives and copied to current Parliamentary party leaders, The Executive Committee secretary and to His Excellency The Governor General, on 25th October 2011, requesting that the report be declared invalid in its current form. This action has been necessary because The Ombudsmen are excluded from investigating the PCE and it is the office of The Speaker who authorises the fiscal requirements of the PCE.

(1)   PCE, 2011. Evaluating the use of 1080: Predators, poisons and silent forests. Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, Wellington. 85 pp. Available at www.pce.parliament.nz
(2)   These documents, and references cited, are at www.1080science.co.nz