Tony Orman examines the uncertainties and lack of science around the effect of 1080 on stream ecology and the public’s trout fishery

Putting a spin on the ‘harmlessness’ of 1080

A Federated Farmers and Forest and Bird Fact Sheet on 1080 poison said : “Trials in four West Coast streams using 10 times the number of 1080 baits that would be expected to enter streams during aerial treatment showed no detectable effect on aquatic life in streams. 

“In separate studies in the United States and New Zealand, 100% of fish-fed 1080 baits survived and showed no ill effects.” 

The Fact Sheet continued: “A study in which meat from a possum that had died from 1080 poison was fed to eels found that all of the eels survived and none became ill.  A NIWA study found that koura (native fresh water crayfish) that ate 1080 baits did not die and showed no ill effects.”

However, the strangeness of the bedfellow relationship of Forest and Bird and Federated Farmers indicates the need for further investigation.

So I turned to Google and found a YouTube by Clyde and Steve Graf <>.

The video examined the science focusing on a NIWA study contracted by OSPRI (originally the Animal Health Board), the biggest user of aerial 1080 poison but significantly approved by the Department of Conservation.

Paid science – getting the scientific results you want

It should be noted that “contracted science” is paid, commissioned science. It arguably lacks independence since a favourable report for the client is far more likely to result in future contracts. 

A case in point was eminent entomologist the late Mike Meads who after a mid-1990s study after an aerial 1080 in a drop at Whitecliffs, Taranaki, expressed deep concern about the long term ecological effects that destroyed invertebrate organisms vital to the functioning of the forest ecosystem.

The Department of Conservation was not happy Mike Meads’ study was exhaustively peer reviewed by people far less qualified; and in the end was made redundant.

Research inconsistencies

The NIWA study highlighted by the ‘Graf Boys’ was interesting viewing. NIWA examined a small stream at Greymouth following a 1080 drop. There were odd inconsistencies. It said 1080 had not killed invertebrates or fish, but 100 metres downstream there was a “decrease in macro-invertebrates”. The study then in contradictory style said there were “significant effects in the decline of invertebrates’, but then added they “were not ecologically significant” — instead of investigating further.

Related is that the government RMA review of 1080 in 2007, as biased as it was in favour of 1080, admitted “there is significant uncertainty regarding the aquatic classification of 1080” due to the lack of data available. It cited “data gaps’ and quoted that mosquito larvae were killed in 0.025 mg 1080 per litre of water. Koura (crayfish) tested over eight days had 1080 in the flesh of tails.

The research in more detail showed discrepancies with the actual poison drops. In the study 6 gm baits were used but in most 1080 drops 12-gm baits are used.

Fish decline

A friend who once owned a property near Greymouth bounded by public lands upon which DOC aerially top-dressed with 1080, told me of a stream that once abounded with native fish (inangas) and eels.

Some months after the poison drop, there was a strong, marked decline in the fish life.

Koura were tested just eight days after the drop.

The Environmental Risk Management Authority (ERMA), noted 1080 does not harmlessly pass through animal bodies and effects such as creation of amino acid and changes to testicles and sperm can occur. It said “1080 can cause developmental effects in laboratory rodents – “testes showed severe damage (with) absence of sperm and damage to cells.” The disruption to male fertility is known as “endocrine disruptor.”

Yet despite this Fish and Game was satisfied that 1080 was harmless. Instead Fish and Game narrowly focused on the effects of anglers consuming trout which had consumed mice dying from 1080.

 In its support of 1080, Fish and Game NZ quoted a USA scientific paper. But on reading the USA paper, the abstract said “data on 1080 in aquatic ecosystems are incomplete” and “primary and secondary poisoning of non-target vertebrates” due to 1080.

Absence of sperm

In 2010 a NZ Ecology paper referred to “exposures to sub-lethal doses have been shown to have harmful effects on the heart and testes in animal studies.” So the question is do “sub-lethal” doses of 1080 result in “severe damage (with) absence of sperm and damage to cells” to male trout, thereby adversely affecting natural spawning?

Since Fish and Game virtually abandoned hatchery releases in the 1970s on the advice of the late scientist Robert McDowall and depended totally on natural spawning for almost 50 years, the reproductive ability of trout is of paramount importance to replenishment of stocks.

In 2005 Landcare Research did a study on “Sodium fluoroacetate (1080) residues in longfin eels “ — scientists P. O’B Lyver, J. Ataria, K. Trought and P. Fisher.

“New Zealand Ministry of Health guidelines state that domestic food products must be equal to or less than the provisional maximum acceptable value (PMA V)  — we detected 1080 residues in eel tissue that were on average 12 times higher than the PMAV, one day after eels consumed (1080) contaminated tissue”. 

Was there any “endocrine disruptor” effect on eels? Eels are regarded as a threatened species. The Department of Conservation is responsible for the conservation welfare of native fish such as eels. The conflict is obvious. 

Questions over the reliability of the science

The muzzled Mike Meads

How reliable is the science? After all, Federated Farmers, Forest and Bird and Department of Conservation have quoted science. Remember the contradictions of the commissioned NIWA paper and the muzzling and rejection of Mike Meads and the character of “paid, commissioned” science.

How good is the science which DoC uses to support its use of 1080?

Two U.S. scientists retired to New Zealand, Pat and Quinn Whiting-O’Keefe audited Department of Conservation scientific research and produced an 88-page monograph reviewing more than 100 scientific papers dealing with 1080. Originally from Stanford Research Institute and University of California, San Francisco in the USA with a considerable knowledge in chemistry and an expertise in statistical inference in complex systems, Pat and Quinn Whiting-O’Keefe focused on the aerial poison drops of 1080 to kill possums and rats. 

No benefit for birds from 1080 drops

In their words:- “The results are startling and belie most of the department’s claims. First, there is no credible scientific evidence showing that any species of native bird benefits from the dropping of tonnes of 1080 into our forest ecosystems, as claimed by the department and Kevin Hackwell (Forest and Bird). There is certainly no evidence of net ecosystem benefit.” 

The pair continued: “considerable evidence exists that DoC’s aerial 1080 operations are doing serious harm, as one would expect, given that 1080 is toxic to all animals. It kills large numbers of native species of birds, invertebrates and bats.” 

Then in reference to “paid, commissioned science “ earlier referred to, the Whiting-O’Keefe’s paper commented “perhaps most disturbing, is that what the Department-sponsored research shows has been habitually misrepresented – entirely unjustifiable assertions regarding 1080’s benefits and lack of harm.” 

And with reference to “endocrine disruptors” — “Moreover, most native species are completely unstudied. In addition considerable evidence shows there are chronic and sub-lethal effects to vertebrate endocrine and reproductive systems, possibly including those of humans.” 

Scientists – pleasing your employers

The point is there are scientists and scientists. Blame should not be attached solely to scientists, whose research perhaps lacks credibility. The “system”, if they want more contracted work, is that they fall into line with the policy of the client, i.e. OSPRI and DoC.

Greek poet Sappho, who lived around 600 B.C., supposedly said, “Never bite the hand that feeds you.”

Quinn and Pat Whiting-O’Keefe concluded about the Department of Conservation’s 1080 science that “there is no credible scientific evidence showing that any species of native bird benefits from the dropping of tonnes of 1080 (and that “there is certainly no evidence of net ecosystem benefit.” 

The last word should go to Orillion – a subsidiary of Animal Control Products, the state owned enterprise (SOE) which stores and distributes 1080 poison.

Orillion’s Fact Sheet on 1080 states “harmful to aquatic organisms.”

That’s from the major aerial spreader of 1080 poison.