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Bruce Wills explains that using 1080 for pest control is making our open spaces healthier for everyone, including the fauna. Your view?

Rural News
Bruce Wills explains that using 1080 for pest control is making our open spaces healthier for everyone, including the fauna. Your view?

By Bruce Wills

Sometimes we Kiwis don’t appreciate how good we’ve got it.

That truth was rammed home to me in a discussion I had with a visiting British academic, Dr Gareth Enticott.

Dr Enticott is looking into lessons that could be taken back to Britain to deal with their Bovine Tuberculosis (TB) problem.

He was also on the West Coast earlier in the week to meet with one of our board members, Katie Milne.

Katie, aside from being a dairy farmer and volunteer fire fighter, is also the chair of TB Free West Coast. If left unchecked bovine TB would massively degrade the value of our pastoral exports by closing off markets.

Not only that, but there are the immense animal health issues in dealing with a contagious and debilitating disease.

If TB was left unchecked, a 2000 report for Treasury puts losses in the first year at $923 million.

That figure was based on beef, deer and dairy exports of $5.5 billion, but today, these three exports are over $14 billion.

If we get TB eradication wrong, the economic consequences are dire. In speaking with Dr Enticott, it brought home to me that while we do things differently from Britain, what we do here is stunningly successful.

If fifteen years ago you had said TB will be brought to heel by a focus on possums, I would have wished you ‘the best of British’. You see our farm was overrun.

So bad was the problem not even hot wire around our roses could stop them being devoured.

You could shoot possums by the score each evening but more seemed to take their place; a zombie army in fur.

They were everywhere and TB breakdowns were all too common.

Where we farm was a high risk area and to manage the risk of TB, sensible risk management meant limiting the number of beef cattle we carried.

For erosion control, we were pretty much limited to a single possum tolerant species; the Chinese poplar tree.

Today, our farm is still overrun, except it is now by native Kereru.

I would not have believed it unless I had lived through it and seen the explosion in bird life and biodiversity with my own eyes.

In our QEII National Trust covenanted areas, native bush is thriving whereas before, it was eaten threadbare.

With bush you get birds but the most remarkable thing is this; in the past three years I am yet to see a possum.

What possum control means for us is this; we have been able to keep farming while providing habitat for native trees and birds. We can plant the full range of poplars and willows that stabilise hills allowing pasture to take hold with native bush in the more inaccessible parts.

The revolution that is TB Free New Zealand has enabled us to lift our cattle stocking rate much higher. It has given us a greater degree of financial sustainability.

TB Free sits within the Animal Health Board and is mostly funded by farmers, augmented by regional councils and Government.

The war we are waging against TB and its main carrier, the possum, has had stunning benefits for our native fauna and flora.

Where else would Forest & Bird and Federated Farmers jointly run the same website extolling the benefits of pest control?

The beauty about TB Free is that it is the funders who have the biggest say on operations.

Those who pay have the say involving farmers, councils and government.

In New Zealand, there are TB Free regions so the war is undertaken by those with local knowledge. In this respect, the New Zealand taxpayer pays less but gets a massive environmental bang because the bulk of the funding rightly comes from us farmers.

We have a huge economic stake that dovetails environmentally; daily I see the benefits on my farm and in native bush.

While it helps us that the possum is an unloved, introduced and destructive pest, the fact is TB is an especially cruel and slow death. An infected possum will have lesions full of the TB bacterium and this is how it is spread to cattle and deer.

In my area, over the past ten years, I can say TB Free is winning and if we can get our area declared TB Free, it further means an extra week of farming instead of annual herd testing.

All this environmental and economic progress is due to the often maligned pest control agent, 1080.

The agent 1080 has been though independent scrutiny, most recently by the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment and was found to be the most effective and humane tool we have, right now.

Unlike many other poisons that persist in the environment, 1080 not only biodegrades but rapidly dilutes in water. In fact, water samples must be taken within eight hours of any drop to find a trace of it.

To die of 1080 in water, you would have to consume 20,000 litres and somehow, I think you'd die of something else first. The fact is 1080 does not kill on touch and nor does it affect the ‘human endocrine’ system.

I wonder if much of the fear around 1080 is because it is so easy to say. If 1080 went by sodium fluoroacetate, its real name, would it be so controversial?

Right now, 1080 is the best tool farmers and environmentalists have to control nasty pests with even nastier habits. The cruel reality is that it is safer to swim in the hunting grounds of the Great White Shark off Stewart Island, than it is to be a Kiwi born in the wild.

If I was a young Kiwi with a stoat heading towards me or a Kereru chick about to be eaten by an opossum, I know where I would stand on pest control.


Bruce Wills is the President of Federated Farmers. You can contact him here »

We welcome your comments below. If you are not already registered, please register to comment.

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If it went by by the name 'Swan river pea extract' it would be thought of as being 'organic'!

"Fluoroacetate occurs naturally in at least 40 plants in Australia, Brazil, and Africa. It was first identified in the poison leaf (gifblaar) Dichapetalum cymosum by Marais in 1944.[4][5] As early as 1904, colonists in Sierra Leone used extracts of Chailletia toxicaria which also contains fluoroacetic acid or its salts to poison rats."


Having this sort of propaganda on the site makes it so much easier to choose to stay away.


I think I am being generous in restricting my description of the article to the use of the word propaganda.


As I won't be visiting the site for a while don't expect a response to any replies to my comment.


Why do you call it " propaganda "  .... .... the article is slanted  towards a good outcome for the environment & for farmers ........ what's not to like about that ?


The lesson is there, but not being learned.


1080 - and we're the ONLY country in the world using it - is merely the least-worst of the options left to us by an ignorant choice made in the past.


One made in greed.


Same as the choice made to dodge the ETS (or the need to redress the degradation)  which is a collateral part of the income-drive.


Another made in greed.


1080 has undoubtedly had an impact.  However, the possum fur industry has also had an impact, albeit  smaller, on farmed cattle.  It is getting harder and harder to find possums in the bush in the area near farms, due to the high trapping/hunting rates of these pests. Approx 8 possums will earn you $100.


No possums would be worth more.


Your '$100' uses a flawed value system. Doesn't account properly for natural capital.


I plan to use these on my 15 acres.


Complete BS and guess who agrees with me?…


Why not develop a vacine,Regional council and AHB funding has become  a cash cow for those with the inside running. 


DoC have commissioned a report later to the one you link to Aj.…


I don't think Andrew is challenging the benefits of the aerial poisoning to our native plants and animals - I think what the TSY report questions is the economic legitimisation (and subsequent funding) of  the 1080 programme based on the bovine TB argument.


Govt will always use the bovine TB argument - otherwise how else are they going to get the farming industry to contribute to the funding? ;-)




Andrewj - thanks for the link to that report.


A little bit of history for other readers.


There is plenty of BS surrounding TB and I certainly don't see it changing soon.


Interestingly Dr Koch won a Nobel Prize (I think it was in 1905) on TB.

Dr Koch was responsible for identifying that it was the milk that was being consumed that was infecting humans with TB. Louis Pasteur worked out if you pasturised the milk that TB was killed off in the milk.

Interestingly Dr Koch proved that it was not Bovine Tuberculosis that was in the milk but the Human variation Mycobacterium Tuberculosis. The milk became infected with Mycobacterium Tuberculosis from the people doing the milking by hand who had dirty hands and were coughing and sneezing while milking. 


A little link from WHO on Human TB.


The use of 1080 is a highly effective tool in killing possums. It also has the ability to secondary kill any animal that eats the dead poisoned possum. 1080 was used extensively on rabbits and many a farmer lost working dogs out mustering before solutions were found.


As a country we have gone from using 1080 to control the massive rabbit problem that NZ had (with the release of the calicivirus (RCD) in about 1997 bringing the rabbit population down significantly) to now using it to control Possum numbers as possums happen to get Bovine Tuberculosis. Other pests have also said to contribute to the Bovine TB problem such as Ferrets and Stoats etc and are actively targeted in Movement Contol areas.


A New Zealander who had a shareholding in Offshore manufacturing plants for 1080 was one of New Zealands key advisers on pest management control in the late 80's early 90's.  The Otago Regional Council commissioned a report from this person during that period which cost from memory in the vicinity of $100,000K. This person was not only advising Councils on what the best strategies and methods were for pest control but was also recommending his product 1080 which was being sold to NZ.


Pest Management Committees that became defunct when the AHB role was initiated under the Biosecurity Act 1993? Most of the people who had previously worked in the pest control units under the Pest Managment committees transferred to the newly created AHB role of TB eradication programmes.  I cannot remember the exact time-frames of when everything was changed and implemented. At the time it felt like we had got rid of one layer of bureaucracy and another was already formed.


1080 used to be widely spread across farmland for the control of rabbits, there appeared to be few options at this time and the problem of rabbits was enormous and the cost to those farmers who were in the plague areas was pretty damned hefty too.


Possums had always been targeted when night shooting programmes were undertaken and also many people during the winter months did trapping etc.  The problems of possum numbers expanding was an accummulation of events: Forestry and DOC land that was adjacent to farmland did not control possums and did not pay rates into the system (so hence they became a breeding ground), International condemnation of animal fur in clothing and night shooting rates declined after the success of the calicivirus release.


There is no doubt that possum numbers increased significantly and you were only as good as your neighbour when it came to Bovine TB.  In fact the farmers who did keep nightshooting and trapping methods up ended up encouraging their neighbours possums to spread out and TB infection rates in cattle increased from one farm to the next.


I organised a very large control plan in our area using task-force green labour. 10 to 12 farms most endemic about 30 thousand acres to natural boundaries. The possums were so thick in one neighbours property they ate the bait stations in the first day.  Not one farmer wanted to use 1080 at the time so we used a poison that had no secondary poisoning to take the numbers down significantly and then used the hockey stick bait stations which are still in place to this day.

This programme was so successful that TB was cleaned up and everyone had clear TB tests. As a district we added an extension programme on the following year again to natural boundaries and using the hockey stick bait stations for a permanent follow- up carried out by the farmer once or twice a year.


There were none of the dead birds lying about in plantation areas as is normal when 1080 is used.


I have always been very disturbed by this whole TB issue. Firstly TB testing was undertaken for human health reasons and yet Dr Koch proved it was the human form infecting the milk. Secondly, the current TB test will expose a cattle beast as a reactor if the cattle beast swells, yet this actually means the reactor has natural immunity to Bovine TB. All these reactor cattle have to be sent to the works and are destroyed. 


DOC land had always been a breeding ground for possums and they refused to do any control work for years causing neighbouring farmers lots of problems. All of a sudden they became experts in possum control and using 1080 and started pouring it out of every helicopter they could find. Pictures of stripped trees were flashed across TV screens of the damage the possum was doing to the environment. There was not a lot of mention on TV about the TB eradication target for farmers. 


I can only assume NZ is still buying the 1080 from the same offshore manufacturing plants (actually they might be down to one now) and wonder if the same advisor is still involved. 































Those who pay for Bovine TB reasons might be able to answer the following:


Possums are territorial, right? So if you're trying to keep TB from migrating to where it ain't, surely you just kill them where the TB is? 


That would create a territorial migration away from the uninfected areas, even if the 'clean' population rose, no?


Just remember, though, that if all possums were eradicated, the extra growth would more than cover out Kyoto obligations......


Good to see somebody telling it like it is.


There is no excuse good enough for pouring a highly toxic, slow killing, indiscriminate, inhumane poison over our forests and waterways. Short sighted behaviour that will destroy our so called "clean, green" image - along with our rural export and tourisim industries. On the positive side, farmers will not need to worry about NZ having a dollar value then.

Watch youTube videos via and review the 2011 PCE report at

As 1080 poison does not have an anitidote - I hope you don't get any in your water, milk, or food.