Hunters are concerned venison meat from deer killed in an area due to be bombarded with 1080 pellets today will be poisoned and dangerous to consume.
Deerstalkers Association national president Trevor Chappell said his group was opposed to toxin drops planned in the Kahurangi area in the northwest South Island and another in the Landsborough area on the West Coast.
As well as voicing food safety fears, he also warned newborn fawns could starve to death if the Department of Conservation (DOC)'s predator-control operations went ahead.
Mr Chappell told Morning Report his body had lobbied DOC over timing of the scheduled operations, but that it had been "an uphill battle" to get a positive response.
He said hunters shot deer this time of year to feed families over the Christmas period, but they were worried the meat would be tainted with toxins, posing a threat to those consuming it.
"The deer are taken out by hunters, primarily for food for their families and our concern is of course is that there is 1080 poison in these areas and there is a danger of these animals consuming the poison at this time of year when many hunters are out there trying to get food for the Christmas table.
"There is a real worry that there could be poison in some of the meat taken."
He said all recreational hunters were opposed to 1080 drops at this time of the year as these caused inhumane suffering to animals.
"It's a very sensitive time for animals, particularly those game animals that are about to drop their young fawns or calves and we're just opposed to the poisoning of these animals. They're a by-kill from these operations and once the mothers die of course the young ones will starve to death."
He said his group acknowledged the need to manage pests and that compromises had been reached with the DOC, with deer repellant measures being introduced during 1080 operations. He said that was not enough.
Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage told Morning Report 1080 operations were a necessity in the area, given the unique and endangered fauna there. She also pointed to large-scale or 'mega' beech mast seeding this year.
Forest seeding leads to rapid increases in rodent populations, which then result in a spike in stoat numbers.
"What we've got is a crisis for our native kākā , blue duck, great-spotted kiwi, and the giant land snails that you get around Kahurangi," she said.
"This drop is ensuring we protect those species because we've had a mega mast year. There's been a lot of seed fall from the forest - mice, rats, stoats have erupted and if we want to protect our native species we need to do the 1080 drop."
The alternative to fawns dying was having native birds decimated by rodents, she added.
"These are indigenous species, they're only found in Aotearoa and we've got a responsibility to protect them.
"There's been a lot of discussion with the Deerstalkers and I would point out the department is spending $250,000 to ensure deer repellant is used in areas like the Cobb Valley in Kahurangi so that they can continue to hunt without any risk."
She said it was impossible to hold off on the operations as rodent populations were exploding and department operations relied on weather windows to get their operations off the ground.
Yesterday, it was revealed that the kōkako breeding season in Auckland's Waitākere ranges had got off to a disastrous start with rats destroying three nests.
Two chicks and five eggs have been eaten at Forest & Bird's Ark in the ranges, with rat faeces found nearby. Each nest had been surrounded by a ring of steel, with traps set every 5m.
Ms Sage said 1080 remained the most effective remedy to pest populations, particularly in inaccessible areas. However, her department announced today five new trapping technologies developed for Predator Free 2050 Limited with funding from the Provincial Growth Fund (PGF).
"We are looking at alternatives, but just in areas like Kahurangi, which is home to really special species ... we really need to use 1080 to increase their chances of thriving when we have a mega mast and so many rats, stouts and mice in our forests."