Workers at a Whanganui business face death threats.

The Orillion factory in the city's Heads Road industrial area manufactures the controversial 1080 poison bait — in itself a dangerous enough practice.

But one staff member there says they have been subjected to death threats by opponents of 1080 which is used by the Department of Conservation to control pests in New Zealand native bush.

There have been regular protests outside the plant's protective security fence, including one on Saturday.

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Neville — not his real name — is one of the facility's 14 staff, and he said the threats did not stop at Orillion's management.

He has installed security cameras at his home.

He said the threats affected the staff's wives and partners, too. "They get pretty wound up."

The 1080 poison is very toxic and people who oppose it are resorting to progressively more extreme measures.

In December last year, a group calling itself New Zealand Hunters threatened to shoot down helicopters dropping poison baits into South Taranaki bush, something Ngā Rauru chairman Te Pahunga Davis said was akin to terrorism.

The hunters also threatened to pick up baits and add them to milk and meat.

In 2015 Auckland businessman Jeremy Kerr — who ran a company, Nature's Support in Marton — was sent to prison for threatening to add 1080 to infant milk formula.

His threat cost New Zealand $37 million and rules around 1080 were tightened after it.

Not many people know that Neville works at Orillion, the trading name of Animal Control Products Ltd.

It imports sodium fluoroacetate (1080) manufactured in the United States for use in pest control. Security around the white crystals is extremely tight, Neville said.

Even suppliers cannot take photographs inside the facility. New Zealand Police and other experts have inspected the way the toxin is handled.

"They reckon it's very secure," Neville said.

The substance is so tightly controlled that when it is sent to the South Island for use, its packaging is returned for disposal at the Bonny Glen landfill near Marton.

Orillion is regularly audited and has never had a workplace incident, chief executive William McCook said. He hopes it stays that way.

"Any incident affects public perception and continued use of the product. The increase in threatening and negative behaviours is really not helping the case at all."

He would not say what kind of security the facility has.

The 1080 poison baits are dropped from helicopters in highly controlled operations over remote New Zealand forest. They are intended to be eaten by possums and rats. Some have repellent added, to make them unattractive to deer.

Stoats and ferrets eating poisoned possums and rats also die, giving native birds a better chance to breed. The baits are usually applied every three years.

For remote and rugged places, aerial operations are considered much cheaper and safer than ground pest control.

"Everybody knows what 1080 is all about and what it does — there's no other option at this stage," Neville said.

Extra amounts of the baits were needed in 2014 and 2016, when a mass drop of beech seed caused rodent numbers to explode. The goal of a predator free New Zealand in 2050 could also boost demand.

Sodium fluoroacetate, given the name 1080, is naturally found in about 40 plants in Australia, Brazil and Africa. There are also small amounts in tea.

The 1080 used in animal control products is manufactured chemically. It is highly toxic to mammals and insects, but breaks down into a harmless salt and acid in water.

More than 40 years of intensive research has gone into its use, including a major report by the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment. She concluded it was not an ideal solution but was the best available now, and more 1080 should be used.

Research has refined its use. A lot more than the current 1kg to 1.5kgs of bait per hectare used to be applied.

The poison is also used for pest control in Australia and the United States - mainly against foxes and dogs.

Animal Control Products Ltd was started in the 1950s, by a combination of pest control boards and government bodies. Since 1991 it has become a state owned enterprise. Its trading arm was given the name Orillion - a word that means a defensive barrier - about two years ago.

It sells and exports about 30 products, including Pestoff and Broadifacoum, and is expected to return a dividend to government. It spends about $300,000 a year on research and developing new products.

A second facility in Rolleston, near Christchurch, now imports 1080 for use as a pesticide. Pest Control Research is a private business, with a majority shareholder.

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1080 protestors outside the Orillion factory