Editorial: Row far bigger than 1080's few failings

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Dr Jan Wright, Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment. Photo / APN
Dr Jan Wright, Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment. Photo / APN

When the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, Jan Wright, told a friend last summer that she was investigating 1080, she was warned this would be a difficult task because of the good arguments on both sides. That word of caution bore testimony to the energy and effectiveness of those opposed to the pesticide's use. In fact, as Dr Wright relates, it proved surprisingly easy for her to not only conclude the use of 1080 should continue but that more of it should be dropped. In sum, her report provides perhaps the most comprehensive riposte yet to those who claim the risks posed by the pesticide far outweigh its benefits.

Dr Wright's research was prompted by a bill by Maori Party MP Rahui Katene which proposes a moratorium on the use of 1080. That such a piece of legislation should be on the table points, again, to the diligence of the pesticide's critics and the controversy they have managed to stir. But much more compelling than the outcome of their endeavour is the identity of those who queued last week to support the commissioner's findings. Not often will the Government, the Green Party, Federated Farmers and Forest and Bird find themselves on the same side of the fence.

Essentially, Dr Wright's findings echo those of an Environmental Risk Management Authority review four years ago. If anything, however, they are even more positive about 1080. The reasons are twofold. First, successful 1080 operations notwithstanding, the overall situation remains dire because of the widespread threat posed by possums, rats and stoats. "Without 1080, our ability to protect many of our native plants and animals would be lost," says Dr Wright. "And without 1080, keeping bovine tuberculosis at bay to protect our dairy herds, and protecting young trees in plantation forests would be much more difficult and expensive."

Secondly, the use of 1080 is now more tightly controlled and monitored, so that the killing of non-target specimens is being cut to a minimum, and there is also a "very, very low risk" that anyone could accidentally die from its use. Dr Wright finds, however, that the Department of Conservation has not been fully effective in getting this improvement, as well as information about pest control operations, across to local communities. This has made it easier for opponents to spread alarm. She, therefore, says the department should provide consistent and accessible information on its website, including the purposes and results of different operations.

Such shortcomings aside, Dr Wright's report confirms unequivocally the value of 1080. Indeed, she notes that in comparison to an imaginary ideal method of killing pests, the pesticide scores surprisingly well. Such an ideal would not kill native birds, fish, lizards and insects, would not kill introduced animals that were not pests, would not leave long-lasting residues in water and soil or endanger public safety, and would kill possums, rats and stoats humanely as well as effectively. "It [1080] is not perfect, but given how controversial it remains, I, for one, expected that it would not be as effective and safe as it is," Dr Wright notes.

The use of 1080 is, of course, not free from risk, and some hunters will be loath to accept her conclusions. But the risks must be kept in perspective. Only eight hunters' dogs have been victims of 1080 in the past four years. No other means of controlling pests is so effective or, thanks to aerial operations, able to be used so extensively. Dr Wright's report is simply the latest in a long line of credible research and evidence-based analysis to sing its praises. It is surely time to bury the controversy and give credit to a pesticide that is reawakening the dawn chorus in our forests.

- NZ Herald

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