Image for NZ’s 1080 blackmail letters’ threat to poison dairy products: The Fallout for Tasmania

*Pic: A Kea

The Land of the Long White Cloud, (or green dust cloud) and the Apple Isle, two islands both with a large dairy industry, both claim to trade on the Clean, Green status and both use 1080 to kill wildlife.

A threat in the form of letters sent to the CEO Fonterra and the Farmers’ Federation New Zealand in November 2014 claimed that dried milk powder and infant formulas would be laced with 1080 if the demand to stop aerial 1080 drops was not met by the end of March 2015.

As bizarre as this blackmail threat appears the New Zealand authorities took nearly four months to inform the country.

But what took the Tasmanian media so long to pick up on this important story? Why is the 1080 food threat not big news in Tasmania or mainland Australia? ABC Rural put the story up on March 10 stating:

“The threats were made as part of a campaign to stop the use of agricultural pesticide 1080 in New Zealand. New Zealand police said that anonymous letters were received by Federated Farmers and Fonterra in November 2014, accompanied by small packages of milk powder, which subsequently tested positive for the presence of a concentrated form of 1080.”

Story here:

Just how safe is the supply chain, what security is in place for the custody of this extremely hazardous chemical stockpiled in many locations across New Zealand?

New Zealand Independent Business Commentator Rod Oram says there is an under appreciation of the risk involved with 1080. He says the supply chain is wide open and a more robust and rigorous system is required.


Within days, the global spot price for dairy dropped dramatically by over 8%, which will benefit China and other big importers of Australian and NZ dairy products. This was explained as due to a glut in the international dairy market rather than anything to do with the 1080 threat. This is the third food safety scare Fonterra has faced in the past 4 years.

New Zealanders are currently struggling with a ramp up in both the amount of 1080 dropped (in the form of cereal pellets or carrot baits), and the vast area it covers fearing the threat of not only the poison but also the dust, which hangs in the air for three to four days like smoke. Some families are keeping their children home from school to minimize the risk in the dump zones. Samantha Hayes reported on New Zealand’s T.V. 3 News program 3rd Degree:

‘We are witnessing the largest ever aerial drop of 1080 in our history on over 700,000 ha [7,000 km2].’

If you were to believe Graeme Elliot of DoC (Department of Conservation, New Zealand). it’s a bit of a Sophie’s Choice, he states: ‘New Zealand is a desert … If we want our forests to be noisy; if we want a lot of kokako and kakas and stuff, then we have to control rats and stoats and we have to do it on a big scale.’ But for New Zealanders spending time in these forests even nine months post dump there is only silence.

Hayes says DoC is at war. The underlying assumption from DoC is that the ‘beech mast’ year in 2014 provided a ‘bumper feed source’ for rats and in turn rats provide feed for stoats. With the decline in rats, the increased stoat numbers switch increasingly on birds and their eggs causing several threatened species to face extinction.

International Environmental award winning documentary maker Clyde Graf doesn’t buy it. ‘It’s insanity. It’s just totally unacceptable insanity. … They kill too many species, they are contaminating forests; it’s an insecticide and it’s not sustainable.

‘They expect to be dropping that stuff [1080] all across New Zealand’s forests for years to come; that’s their plan.’

‘They need to lose their power. They need to lose their budgets immediately. I don’t buy that DoC has got this urgent problem. I think it’s exaggerated and it’s dangerous to do what they are proposing to do.’

Request for 50 years of funding:

University of Auckland School of Biological Sciences and Department of Statistics ecologist Dr James Russell and colleagues say the cost of ridding New Zealand of pests over a 50-year timeframe is estimated at $9.04 billion.

When compared with the cost of defending New Zealand against all agricultural pests over the same period - estimated at $15.96 billion – they believe the benefits outweigh the costs. The research group have published their paper in the prestigious international journal BioScience.

A half-century war of possums, ferrets, weasels, stoats and rodents – and they’ll throw in a few feral cats as well for the price!

A contraceptive vaccine specifically designed for possums is in the wings

Dr Janine Duckworth says she only needs a ‘couple of million’ to complete her work on a sterility vaccine for possums and other target species. Duckworth discussed this with Hayes on 3rd Degree:

Hayes: ‘Injected into the animal it has up to an 80% success rate in rendering possums sterile, effectively destroying some populations. … All that remains is to find a way to feed it to them’.

Janine Duckworth (DoC Lincoln, near Christchurch): ‘Our next aim is to combine a possum-specific target with a good oral vaccine that we can put out into a bait and deliver to possums in the wild.’

‘[To] eat it [the vaccine bait] and then they would become infertile.’

‘I think this could be a really elegant tool. I think it would be humane. I think we can make it effective and I think we can make it ‘possum-specific.’

‘The technique could be applied to a lot of other animals, including the rodents – like rats and mice – and stoats. In fact it would probably be very effective in an animal like a stoat because they have such large litter sizes.’

Hayes: ‘But like so many promising scientific projects, there’s a familiar catch – lack of funding.’

Janine Duckworth: ‘Right now [Dec 2014] it’s a question of money.’

Hayes: ‘Do you know approximately how much?’

Janine Duckworth: ‘Probably a couple of million. Within 5 years we would have something that would be ready for testing in the field.’

‘We’ve got the pieces; we just need to put those two pieces together.’

But for DoC the war goes on in New Zealand’s forests:

Hayes: ‘Do you think you’ve won the battle for our birds?’

Graeme Elliott: ‘I think we’ll have saved the birds, in most places, from a big knock. But unless we’re back doing this the next time there’s a beech mast, we’ll have lost the war. So there is just … (pause) … we have to keep doing this.’

Hayes: ‘There are advocates out there who want to see more 1080 used on our forests - Forest & Bird for one. They’re actually pushing a predator-free mainland [NZ north and south islands] which could be an impossible goal.’

Meanwhile New Zealanders hold concern for the dropping population of Kea. Fearing another dump of the dreaded green dust might just push them over the edge.

“Battle for the Birds” - is DoC’s research, sound?‬‬

[To be continued…]

Penelope Marshall studied creative writing at Queensland University and has a Diploma in Freelance Journalism. In Hobart she has attended courses with local writers and journalists. Penelope studied for a Diploma of Arts in Professional Writing and Editing and has completed an Arts Degree at The University of Tasmania majoring in English and History. Currently she is on the Clarence City Council Cultural History Advisory Committee assisting with local history projects and is project manager for the South Arm Convict Trail. Published works include stories in the Convict Lives female factory series, feature stories in 40 Degrees South Magazine and stories on Tasmanian Times. Besides writing Penelope is a carer for sick and injured wildlife and spends a lot of time in the Tasmanian wilderness. She lives at Opossum Bay with many pets!

Dr David Obendorf is a retired veterinary pathologist with a PhD. Apart from his scientific interests in biodiversity and biosecurity, he has used his time since retiring as a Tasmanian public servant to advocate for greater openness and accountability within government and particularly in its bureaucracies. David has used e-publications on Tasmania Times as the only forum willing to allow a debate on the scientific basis for Tasmania’s expensive 14-year war on foxes.