There's 1080 in our tea, so what's all the fuss about?

23:55, Jun 19 2011

If you want to learn the truth about 1080 poison read the recent report of the parliamentary commissioner for the environment. Don't go to the web because that's where the mischief-making "1080 National Network" fills all the spaces.

Fanatics such as the 1080 National Network will go to any lengths to stop the poison being dropped on possums and they fill the web with needless fear, exaggeration, myths, and conspiracy theories, while challenging scientific consensus with anecdotes. The network claims that 1080 doesn't work, has unknown dangerous effects and threatens human health. But none of these things are true.

Epidemiologists and ecologists prove that 1080 greatly improves the lot of farms, forests and birds and that the poison has only trivial and ephemeral effects on native animals or ecosystems. The poison has never been detected in any New Zealand municipal water supply and very rarely in waterways after poison drops. At three parts per billion you must drink 60,000 litres of stream water at one sitting for it to make you ill.

The 1080 poison has been thoroughly researched over the past 50 years. You'll find more than 100 scientific papers quoted in the commissioner's report.

It's nonsense to say that 1080 threatens our health, because tea plants produce 1080 as a natural chemical defence against browsing insects and we consume the stuff every time we drink a cup of tea.

The poison does not accumulate in our bodies, as our metabolism detoxifies small amounts daily, degrading the poison to harmless byproducts that we excrete in our urine.


Although tonnes of 1080 have been dropped from New Zealand planes for more than 50 years, it has killed only one person - an unlucky possum hunter who accidentally ate 1080-laced jam. Revenue Minister Peter Dunne, echoing the 1080 National Network's ill-informed propaganda, claims the poison is dropped widely and indiscriminately but this is untrue. It is used on only 2 per cent of the Conservation Department's lands and it is used very sparingly on farmland.

Areas in which 1080 have been used show up as mere pin-pricks on a map of New Zealand, while possums, rats and stoats run riot over the remaining 95 per cent of the country. This is why the parliamentary commissioner for the environment is calling for its wider use.

Mr Dunne argues that possum trappers should replace 1080 poison drops but he should know that trapping is ineffective, prohibitively expensive and the workers can't access the vast possum-infested hinterland.

A trapper might spend weeks killing 60 per cent of the possums on his block but 1080 will kill 95 per cent of them in a night.

Attempts at employing the unemployed to kill possums have failed. Experience has shown that some of the unemployed will not get out of bed early enough to visit trap and poison lines at first light.

People opposed to 1080 would see our bush in tatters, threaten to undo years of good conservation work and sabotage our dairy exports.

Mr Dunne complains that the commissioner has kicked these guys in the guts. Quite right - and about time.

The Dominion Post