By Paul Murray - (The Press Aug. 21, 2008)
The use of sodium monofluoroacetate (1080) by the Animal Health Board (AHB) on the West Coast is indeed a contentious and emotive issue and one that has attracted a lot of media attention recently. The issue’s newsworthiness results from the groundswell of public opposition to the broad-scale, indiscriminate aerial distribution of the poison over large areas of the West Coast in the service of killing possums to help eradicate bovine TB.
It is important to remember that there are many strings to the West Coast’s economic bow. These include dairy farming and tourism, both of which are pillars of the West Coast economy. Unfortunately, tourism operators have been largely ignored by the AHB’s single-minded approach to Tb eradication on the Coast.
In the recent aerial 1080 operation in Karamea and other regions on the West Coast, tourism operators were not even considered “affected parties” by the AHB or pest-control contractor EPRO Ltd. Attempts to inform the community, or tourism operators of their daily schedules, including the temporary closure of tracks and some tourist attractions, have been sporadic at best. The result: several people being in the bush in the drop zone and showered with 1080 pellets, a very dangerous situation.
In 2007, a comprehensive study of the Karamea community revealed that 90% of residents listed the environment as their principal motivation for choosing to live in this remote, but idyllic and scenically stunning, West Coast region. I believe that this sentiment is shared by most residents of the West Coast.
A local petition circulated by community action group Karameans Advocating Kahurangi Action (KAKA) revealed that over 50% of local residents vehemently opposed the aerial distribution of 1080 in our backyard. A West Coast-wide petition, still in circulation, is already indicating similar results. Opposition to aerial distribution of 1080 on the Coast is widespread and significant. It can hardly be a surprise to the proponents of 1080 that there is significant protest and passionate opposition to the programme. UnitedFuture’s Peter Dunne summarised the situation well in a recent media release when he said UnitedFuture Leader Peter Dunne summarised the situation well in a recent media release when he said, “I know no other publicly funded industry in New Zealand that has such a blatant disregard for community transparency. DoC, the AHB and the poison contractors should therefore not act surprised that public perception has turned against them.”
To suggest that all farmers are in favour of 1080 is misleading. For example, many Karamea farmers (including some dairy farmers), and others across the Coast, have refused to allow aerial 1080 operation on their properties. Some dairy farmers have also begun to question the effectiveness of 1080 aerial operations and the relative importance of possums in the ongoing transmission of bovine TB (i.e. other factors are involved and need closer examination – factors such as pasture management, stock movement controls, etc). For example, some dairy farms bordering the Kahurangi National Park are clear of Tb and have been for many years while others much closer to the coast (well removed from Park boundaries) have a continuing and significant Tb problem. This suggests that factors other than possums may be involved.
The 1080 aerial programme has a major negative impact on the Coast region in terms of tourism and may endanger visitors to the Coast. We also have to cope with a poisoned environment for the next six months and suffer the stigma of skull and crossbones signs in place at all public places warning people of the dangers of 1080 to humans and animals. We cannot walk our dogs and residents and visitors must keep a constant vigil on their children to ensure they are not poisoned. We have 1080 baits and the carcasses of dead animals littering beaches and estuaries in the region, putting even more recreational areas off limits to children, dogs and tourists.
To suggest, as Chairwoman of TB Free West Coast Helen Lash did in an article headlined “Coast Needs 1080 Use” in The Press on July 31, 2008 (A9), that the entire West Coast economy would collapse if we didn’t aerially dump poison all over the forest in an attempt to control bovine Tb totally ignores the critical role of hard-working tourism, mining and other non-dairy based business operators in sustaining and growing our local economy. Tourism operators and many others have devoted their lives, invested large amounts of money and continue to work tirelessly promote the region’s unique environment to international and domestic visitors.
While we would agree that the dairy industry currently provides a substantial part of the Coast’s current economic foundation and fully understand the industry’s concerns regarding bovine Tb, there are longer term economic issues at play. For example, the long term potential for growth in the tourism sector will outstrip prospects for expansion in the dairy industry.
Ms Lash suggests that the AHB 1080 programme is to “protect the Coast from any possibility of any future trade or export restrictions in the farming sector due to Tb infection.” What trade or export restrictions does she refer to? Many countries have Tb infestation rates far in excess of New Zealand and the World Animal Health Organisation has removed Tb as a barrier to regulated trade. While this doesn’t suggest that Tb control is no longer important, it does suggest that a complete review of the AHB approach to the problem is necessary.
A far greater threat to trade and export is the potential for our agricultural exports to be contaminated with 1080 residue and our Clean/Green/100%Pure New Zealand image tarnished by the continued broad-scale, indiscriminate use of a toxin so dangerous it is banned in most countries. The continued use of 1080 will inevitably jeopardise New Zealand’s international image as a tourist destination and producer of quality primary food products. International competitors are ruthless – they will eventually target the 1080 issue as a way of improving their competitiveness in international markets, at the expense of N.Z. exporters and tourism businesses reliant on international tourism.
The test for bovine Tb is at best 80% accurate (Nick Hancox AHB), which means that out of every 100 animals tested, 20 will give and inconclusive result. Some cattle without Tb may produce a positive result and are slaughtered without due cause. Some Tb infected cattle are undetected, remain in the herd and become vectors for re-infestation. In addition, AHB rules regarding the movement of Tb infected cattle have been flouted by some farmers across New Zealand and on the West Coast, which has been well documented in the press. Clearly, improved Tb testing and stock control procedures are necessary if Tb infected cattle are to be eliminated as a significant contributor to ongoing Tb infestation.
AHB data are highly problematic. It is not collected and collated by an external, objective scientific body. The AHB produces in-house data regarding possum numbers and Tb infection rates in possums prior to the drop. They monitor and manage aerial drops and handle the subsequent water testing. They then collate their in-house data, produce their statistical reports and other materials demonstrating the effectiveness of aerial drops. Much of the data appears to be selectively released, without any accompanying explanation of the methodologies used – an essential requirement if the public is to be in a position to effectively assess the validity of the AHB data.
The AHB is an incorporated society, a Government established and funded quango, that is not answerable to the Ombudsman nor subject to the Official Information Act.
It appears to be accountable only to the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries (Jim Anderton). UnitedFuture leader Peter Dunne summarised the situation well n a recent press release when he wrote, "I know no other publicly funded industry in New Zealand that has such a blatant disregard for community transparency. DoC, the AHB and the poison contractors should therefore not act surprised that public perception has turned against them.”
Both the Minister for Agriculture and the Minister for Finance are shareholders in the government company that makes the 1080 baits.
Given these connections, and the legislated protections and financial resources the AHB enjoys, is it any wonder that an increasing body of people are: are dubious about the accuracy of AHB reports; want independent monitoring of its activities; and stronger oversight by Government. Peter Dunne again said it well, “It is crazy that those whose commercial interests lie in the persistence of the status quo are the same people left to assess the effectiveness and future viability of Government policy regarding 1080.”
No responsible anti-1080 campaigners are suggesting that we shouldn’t control possums, or that we should make no attempt to contain and eradicate bovine Tb. Let’s make sure that the solution addresses the problem. Let’s also make sure that the process of looking after the farmers doesn’t ignore the rights of other stakeholders, harm our environment unnecessarily, decimate our native birds, pollute our waterways, poison the land and limit the legacy we have to offer our children.
What is urgently required is a roundtable with all stakeholders to get together and work out genuinely Clean/Green and 100%Pure solutions to the problem of pest-control and bovine Tb, so that we can all go about our respective businesses and confidently promote our country and our primary products to the world market with confidence and pride.
****KAKA is a community action group formed in 2007 in Karamea to represent local people concerned about the aerial 1080 programme on the West Coast of the South Island and to campaign for genuinely Clean Green/100%Pure alternatives to aerial 1080. ****
Karamea Tourism Operator and Media Spokesperson for
Karameans Advocating Kahurangi Action (KAKA)
Coast Needs 1080 Use
Thursday, 31 July 2008
A successful bovine Tb control programme is critical to help secure the prosperity of the West Coast and its farming sector, writes HELEN LASH.
There's been a lot in the media in recent weeks about aerial possum control and why some in our community don't like the use of 1080.
For this reason, and out of public concern, I felt it important to offer some background on the West Coast's bovine tuberculosis (Tb) problem, and explain why 1080 is used in Tb control.
Firstly, let's be clear this region has a serious problem with bovine Tb. It's a terrible disease that has plagued our farmers and their cattle and deer herds for decades. In the 1960s and 1970s, Tb was so bad here that some farmers were forced to abandon cattle farming, and the reputation and stigma of farming with Tb made it nearly impossible to sell some farms.
The situation now is very different. We continue to have the highest rate of Tb infection in the country, but because of improved control measures the disease is far less rampant than it was. Dairying is now booming on the Coast, which is driving a more buoyant local economy. That's good news for all Coasters, not just farmers.
But from the 1960s through to today, Tb has been taking a toll on our farming communities. Some farmers with infected stock have faced huge emotional and financial pressures and losses. Tb has devastated their herds and cost them hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost income. It can take years to climb back from that, and some never do.
So why is it so much better now? What has changed?
In the late 1990s the Animal Health Board (AHB) improved the campaign to get on top of Tb on the Coast. They improved Tb testing standards for farmed cattle and deer and, most importantly, began a much more vigorous campaign to target the main source of Tb infection in cattle and deer on the West Coast possums.
The problem with Tb-infected possums is that when they get sick, they can wander onto paddocks and come into contact with the farmed stock. It then just takes one curious deer, cow or steer to sniff the diseased possum and that's it the disease can now spread to a new animal and potentially, the herd.
In the early days, Tb control funding available for the Coast only allowed for stop-gap possum control to reduce the worst of the problem. In 2006 the AHB stepped up the campaign to a hard-hitting one with greatly increased funds. This enabled ground and aerial possum control work to be co-ordinated and far more effective. It also enabled larger operations deeper into the bush to give longer-lasting and more effective protection to farmed areas.
The current possum control programme involves a mix of ground-based trapping and poisoning, and aerial application of 1080 bait.
While the aerial jobs grab the headlines at times they are not as prevalent as many people think. This year, ground-based control will be carried out over 273,000 hectares. Aerial operations will cover 102,000ha less than 5 per cent of the West Coast's land area.
We have an incredible team that puts these programmes together. The ground controls are intensive and the work carried out is staggering, especially considering the ground many of these controls cover. We aren't just talking bush areas here often these guys can be found wading through deep swamps without complaint it's all part of the contract. The tools the ground contracts use are varied and can include cyanide bait stations, Feratox, ground-laid 1080 and trapping. All controls are monitored at completion to assess the success rate. Many controls are reworked until satisfactory results are attained.
For aerial control, 1080 is the only tool available. It is the only toxin that can be applied aerially and so it plays a vital role in the Tb vector programme. The critical factors in Tb possum control are getting even, complete control over large areas in a short time. Otherwise, pockets of infected possums can be left behind, or infected possums will quickly reinvade the area just controlled. Aerial baiting can achieve the required level, scale and speed of control over large, rugged areas that are simply not viable to work by foot.
When used correctly with proper precautions which are enforced by law 1080 is a safe and effective form of pest control. Operations require a huge amount of prior planning and consultation to ensure any possible risks to the public or the environment are effectively dealt with. Consents or permissions are required from the Environmental Risk Management Authority, the regional council, the Ministry of Health, the Department of Conservation and any private landowners involved. Hunters, farmers, recreational groups and local communities need to be involved and informed well in advance of any operations. As an operation draws near, notification and warning signs all need to be in place so that everyone knows what's going on.
The first step in the operation itself is to lay non-toxic pre-feed baits, usually a week to 10 days before poison is laid. This accustoms possums to the bait to get the best kill rate from the toxic bait which follows. The toxic bait (either carrots or cereal pellets) is then applied, usually at 3kg per hectare which means there will a teaspoon of 1080 poison per hectare. Baits end up thinly scattered through the forest it's not carpet bombing or spraying by any means.
Public areas, roads and popular tracks are all excluded from drop zones and this is carefully controlled using GPS navigation. The Medical Officer of Health will impose any exclusion zones needed to protect drinking water supplies from possible contamination and may require water to be tested after a drop.
Since 1990 more than 2000 such water samples have been taken around New Zealand, with no evidence of harmful contamination of water supplies. In the 40 years 1080 has been used in New Zealand there has been no harm to public health.
Farmers play a big part in the Tb strategy. They are required to correctly tag their stock, keep their stock retained within their farm boundaries, carry out extensive Tb testing on their herds, assess the risks of stock movements and purchases, complete legal documents that must be carried with the movement of stock and comply with the Tb rules and regulations. Communication has been stepped up with farmers and we have also cracked down on farmer non-compliance.
Twelve years ago on the Coast we had 259 Tb-infected herds this is herds and not individual animals. Today we have 58. From the TB Free Committees' perspective, we are aiming to get that number much lower, even though progress from now will be harder. Our goal is to protect the Coast from any possibility of any future trade or export restrictions in the farming sector due to Tb infection. The only way to do this is to drive the Tb infection rate down right down.
Some of those opposed to 1080 have little concern for the farmers of the West Coast they've said so publicly. They don't understand Tb and the impact it has had, and could continue to have, and some of them don't seem to care.
As a region, we need farming to succeed. Supporting Tb control will help make that happen.
Helen Lash is chairwoman of TB Free West Coast. TB Free West Coast is a committee of volunteer farmers representing the industry funders of the TB Strategy.