The late Bill Benfield, former Council of Outdoor Recreation Association’s chairman, wrote this opinion piece four years ago. It is more relevant than ever as the Department of Conservation and OSPRI carry out more and more 1080 drops and in the public’s National Parks like Fiordland and Nelson Lakes. Hence our re-publishing Bill’s thoughts.
New Zealand markets itself as “clean and green” and “100% pure”. Food from farming and other primary industries makes up about 70% of New Zealand’s exports. The “clean and green” brand is a marketing strategy to convince export markets that exported New Zealand food is “100% pure.”
The branding is marketed to attract tourism dollars to New Zealand on the promise of pristine, pure wilderness. Farming and tourism are two major components of the country’s economy.
But the bragging is looking shaky. A couple of years ago it was revealed a survey said 60% of New Zealand’s rivers were unfit for swimming. On the UK’s BBC “Hard Talk” New Zealand Prime minister John Key was given a torrid time over the state of rivers relative to the “clean, green” claims. Key looked distinctly uncomfortable.
Key could not shrug it off as he usually did.
But rivers are only part of the fragility of New Zealand’s “clean and green” branding.
Mass spreading of poisons is undermining the marketing of 100% pure.
A major threat to the country’s biodiversity and ecology is the widespread use of poisons to combat portrayed invasions by so-called “introduced” wild animals that have been in the country now for 150 years.
Bill Benfield wrote two fine books on the poison ‘industry’
Government agencies funded by public money spread toxins on a broad landscape basis by air. One such toxin 1080 (sodium monofluoroacetate), was first developed as an insecticide but in reality it’s a “wide spectrum” poison.
1080 is spread primarily to combat possum, alleged to be a pest devouring native vegetation and accused of spreading bovine tuberculosis (Tb). The toxin is also used to kill rats said to be preying on and annihilating native birds.
But as the story unfolds, undistorted by bureaucratic spin, it is not the rats or possums that are the threat to ecosystems but New Zealand’s very own poison “industry” which has become a “gravy train” for well-paid bureaucrats and empires.
The manner of spreading 1080 especially from the air, is indiscriminate and with the potential to cause long term ecological damage, which is becoming more evident now. 1080 was first developed as an insecticide but was found to kill animals also. So it became a poison for pests. It still kills insects, animals and birds – in short anything which comes in contact with it.
It is an eco-system poison.
New Zealand’s bovine tuberculosis (TB-Free) policy is similarly flawed with authorities using an error-prone skin test to detect TB in farm animals. As a result undetected stock can be sold and transported thus spreading TB. Stock trucks, not possums, are the culprit. besides NZ’s bovine TB rates are so low, well under WHO requirements.
Bureaucracies roll on, avoiding admitting past policies are wrong and inventing problems to occupy their time. Instead “spin doctors” feed irresponsible propaganda to fib and say policies are right.
Underlying New Zealand’s poison programmes is an inherent hatred of “introduced” creatures. But it’s very selective and hypo-critical. Humans are introduced, so are cows and sheep and other farm animals. But wild animals seem fair game!
In 1958, Dr William Graf, a Californian Professor of Zoology, visited New Zealand to study the wild deer situation. Following Dr Graf coined the phrase “anti-exotic animal phobia” in describing government attitude.
New Zealand, just the size of the state of Colorado, uses over 90 percent of the world’s manufactured 1080 poison.
But 1080 disrupts the natural food chain. Research shows within three years after 1080, numbers of fast and prolific breeding rats soar as Nature kicks back. Stoats preying on rats thrive and similarly explode. The whole food chain is put out of balance.
Birds, directly or indirectly, die from 1080 either through ingesting toxic baits, preying or scavenging on poisoned prey (the latter termed “secondary poisoning”). The morepork (native owl) and native falcon have both suffered high losses due to 1080. The native mountain parrot, the kea, a curious jester by nature, has had populations severely cut by 1080.
The poison, acting as an insecticide, kills insects vital to the ecosystem such as native bees so essential to pollination, and other insects vital food source to insectivorous bird species.
Again a bizarre aspect is the 1080 factory-depot at Whanganui in the North Island, is government owned. Animal Control Products is a State Owned Enterprise charged with returning a profit.
Meanwhile New Zealand is killing its bio-diversity which by international agreement it is charged with protecting.
Footnote: Bill Benfield was the author of two excellent books on the subject, “At War with Nature” and “The Third Wave”, published by Tross Publishing.
Poison notices testify to the poison drops