DoC and Scientists

Opinion by John McNab

The New Zealand Department of Conservation (DoC) employ scientists to come up with conclusions that will be deemed favourable to the pro-poison policies (aka policy-based evidence-making.) However, if a scientist comes up with the unwanted realities, the system goes to work, discredits their work and pillories them.

One example was the late Mike Meads, a respected invertebrate scientist, who in 1992 after studying the effects of an aerial drop of 1080 in Taranaki, predicted that continued 1080 airdrops over New Zealand forests will destroy much of the food supply of ground eating birds like the kiwi.

Mike Meads warned that because 1080 wipes out many leaf litter-consuming invertebrates and micro-organisms, the litter fails to properly decompose and builds up at an alarming rate. He was quoted as saying there was already an amazing leaf build-up in some lowland forests because without these organisms, after 1080 aerial drops, the leaf litter was not decomposing. 

Complicating the matter was the unusually long life cycle of many forest invertebrates, e.g. cicada has a 17 year life cycle, weta two years. One air drop of 1080 can wipe out generations of cicada larvae and they and wetas were important in the kiwi’s diet.

DoC refused to publish the papers, perhaps because at the time the $50 million budget for aerial-1080 was about to be awarded. In order to cement their case, DoC went to six peer reviews hoping to discredit the Mike Meads’ findings. 

They then attempted to block him from presenting his paper to a Royal Society seminar then made this scientist redundant.

Mike Meads was perturbed about the cavalier, indiscriminate way 1080 was spread from the air. He said, “Widespread aerial distribution can only have serious long term effects on forests and forest life with enormous risk of destroying the ecosystem.”


© The late Mike Meads



Mike Meads was no ordinary scientist. He was regarded as an authority on some of New Zealand’s rarer invertebrates, including the threatened giant wetas, he published more than 100 papers in many New Zealand and overseas journals and delivered papers to international conferences in Australia, UK and USA.

But Mike Meads wasn’t the only scientist to warn of the adverse ecological effects of 1080.

In 1989, DSIR scientist Peter Notman found many insects, particularly subsoil leaf litter feeders, were highly susceptible to the systemic and contact poisoning effects of 1080.

In the year 2000, a paper to the 53rd New Zealand Plant Protection Society by four scientists, highlighted the effects of sub-lethal (not fatal) doses to birds, namely, mallard ducks.  The research said that 1080 was rapidly absorbed and distributed to the heart, sketetal muscle and noted that “exposure to sub-lethal doses may in some instances, be sufficient to have long term detrimental effects.”

Endocrine Disruptor

1080 has “endocrine disruptor” properties where the toxin, taken in a sub-lethal dose, affects the testes with infertility induced in males.  Do the long term detrimental effects include inhibiting/nullifying reproductive ability? 

On a National Radio Morning Report discussion on 1080, Dr Charlie Eason, a Landcare Research Toxicologist, was quoted as saying studies on animals have shown repeated exposure to 1080 can affect heart and testes.

Studies of rats, mustelids, birds and skinks have provided evidence that 1080 is a reproductive hormone disrupter – reference 2008 “NZ Listener” article by Dr Sean Weaver, Victoria University.

The irony is that DoC, entrusted to safeguard native bird populations, is guilty of killing birds itself by direct or secondary poisoning, disrupting their breeding and in the case of birds like kiwis, tomtits, bush robins etc., killing their food, i.e. invertebrates!





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