New Zealand government poisoning birds

Overview of scientific and other implications of the New Zealand government’s aerial distribution of food laced with the poison 1080 for pest control

For more than 15 years, the New Zealand Department of Conservation (DoC), the Animal Health Board (AHB), a society formed by the government to eradicate bovine Tb in NZ cattle and several regional and district councils have been widely distributing from the air large amounts of food laced with an extremely toxic chemical, monofluoroacetate (1080), in an effort to kill possums and rats. The purpose stated by DoC is to protect native birds. The AHB believes possums to be a wild animal vector for bovine Tb. This practice has been extended across the length and breadth of New Zealand, concentrating on its forest systems.

While aerial 1080 does kill feral species, it also kills large numbers of native birds, an unknown number of invertebrates, many game animals such as deer and pigs and, when exposed, domestic animals including dogs, horses, sheep and cattle.

Some key facts and scientific and other aspects of this practice are listed here:

  • Monofluoroacetate (1080) is a metabolic poison that is extremely toxic to all air-breathing organisms
  • New Zealand is virtually the world’s only consumer of 1080, in most other countries 1080 is banned outright or severely restricted because of its lethality and its indiscriminate killing power, or it is simply not used.
  • 1080 is not the problem as such; putting large amounts of 1080 into attractive food and distributing it indiscriminately into forest ecosystems where it can be, and often is, eaten by many forest dwelling organisms is the problem.
  • Possums may be vectors of bovine TB, but aerial 1080 and its attendant risks and collateral damage are not necessary to achieve protection from possum-vectored TB, which has been shown to be most effective and only necessary in the forest pasture margin.
  • Clear alternative methods of pest control are available, are used successfully in other countries, are cost effective or possibly cost saving, and are showing great early promise in New Zealand.
  • Aerial 1080 is costly, possibly more costly than ground-based alternatives. NZ is spending through DoC and AHB at least $50 million per year on aerial 1080 operations, which may be providing a perverse bureaucratic incentive to those organizations to continue the practice.
  • There is no credible scientific evidence that mass poisoning the forest ecosystems with aerial 1080 is of net benefit to so much as one native species.
  • New Zealand’s use of aerial 1080 is completely unprecedented. No other country is or ever has carried out an aerial campaign of mass poisoning such as that being carried out in New Zealand.
  • There is overwhelming evidence of harm to some native species from aerial 1080 operations, and there is considerable evidence of ecological disruption, as one would expect given the indiscriminate nature of the aerial 1080 programme.
  • There is no credible evidence of countervailing net ecosystem benefit. Neither DoC nor AHB has ever undertaken a study that would provide the kind of hard experimental evidence that there is net native biodiversity benefit from their mass poisoning program with aerial 1080.
  • The government’s reassessment of the use of 1080 in 2007 was flawed because of committee composition, executive control by potentially biased ex-DoC employees, prejudgement, and failure to acknowledge or hear countervailing evidence.
  • In the absence of accidents, a significant threat to human health is unlikely. In this regard DoC is correct. However, accidents and mishaps are common. There are numerous reasonably well documented cases of 1080 being dropped out of the intended area resulting in livestock and pets being killed, food contaminated and similar events.
  • It is also possible that a child could ingest the 1080-laced bait pellets that are being distributed close to populated areas and become lethally intoxicated.
  • In addition, there is a huge gap in knowledge regarding the chronic and sublethal effects of exposure to the concentrations of 1080 that appear in effluent runoff after 1080 drops and to which hundreds of thousands of people are now being exposed. Historical precedent would indicate that when such effects are possible in cases of mass exposure to toxins they eventually appear if they are looked for. In this case, there has been almost no published effort to find such effects.
  • Finally, there are several potential risks to the New Zealand economy, not documented and not yet realized, but nonetheless potential. There is considerable opinion that important damage could be done to NZ tourism and its brand name “100% Pure” labelling if DoC’s 15-year long mass poisoning campaign with aerial 1080 were widely known outside New Zealand.
  • In addition, if 1080 were even found in exported food products, as it has been occasionally in milk, beef and other food products, it could have important impact on New Zealand’s ability to export these products.

A graphic and informative documentary, “Poisoning Paradise – Ecocide New Zealand” is available that has won a number of international ecological film competitions and fairly describes the effect this practice is having on New Zealand wildlife.

One can obtain it or follow links to view portions of it at: