9 Jun 2011

Report urges more use of 1080 poison

8:34 am on 9 June 2011

The Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment has released the findings of an investigation recommending greater use of 1080 to protect forests from possums, rats and stoats.

The commissioner, Jan Wright, has found that without 1080 the ability to protect many native plants and animals would be lost.

Dr Wright told Morning Report the study systematically examined all aspects of 1080 use and found that nothing else can do the job as well.

"I was surprised at how good 1080 was - I expected to see more of a downside, bigger risks," she said.

"But of course practice and the way it's used has changed a lot over the years ... and I think a lot of the concern about it is historical from bad practices in the past."

She says not only should the use of the poison continue, but more of it should be used to protect the country's forests from possums, rats and stoats.

The report also found 1080 poses very little risk to adults unless they eat about seven pieces of bait, or in the case of a child, one.

More protests threatened

Opponents of 1080 are threatening more protest action if the poison is used more often.

A spokesperson for the Upper Coromandel Landcare Association says the report is nonsense. Reihana Robinson says Commissioner Jan Wright has not spoken to key scientists who are against 1080 and there will be more protests.

However, the Department of Conservation says critics need to read the report and accept that 1080 is safe.

Chief executive Al Morrison says at present, there is no hope of the poison being dropped from the list of pest control methods.

Mr Morrison says DoC must do extensive monitoring when 1080 is used and he hopes this report will get rid of some of that red tape.

Farmers welcome report's findings

Federated Farmers national president, Don Nicolson, says any ban on the poison could jeopardise the country's bovine TB eradication programme, as he says there are no effective alternatives.

Mr Nicolson says it is imperative for the economy as a whole, not just the farming sector, to aim for TB-free status.

New Zealand has set a target and is making good progress towards it, with the use of 1080 and other means, he says.

Forest and Bird Society conservation advocate Nicola Vallance also welomes the reports findings and says the biggest problem faced by wildlife in this country is the threat of introduced predators.

However the chairman of environmental group Kea, Gerard Bullimore, says 1080 is harmful to people's health, and his group will continue to campaign against its use.

Scientists at odds over 1080

The commissioner's report took into account work carried out by Professor Charles Eason from Lincoln University.

He told Nine to Noon it is well proven that 1080 can produce a 90% reduction in possum numbers in targeted areas, and is undeniably a key tool for large conservation areas.

However retired University of California, San Francisco scientist Dr Quinn Whiting-O'Keefe said no other country in the world is mass poisoning its ecosystem in such a way.

He says while 1080 is guaranteed to be harmful, there is no credible study showing a benefit to a single native species.

The Animal Health Board is a major user of the poison, to prevent bovine tuberculosis by killing possums in farming areas.

Spokesperson Nick Hancox says Dr Whiting-O'Keefe has a background in US drug trials, but no expertise in ecology, wildlife management or pest control.

Mr Hancox says the consensus among New Zealand scientists is that 1080 is effective and that benefits outweigh any adverse effects.