Frequently Asked Questions
ANSWER: Sodium fluoroacetate is a chemical used to kill unwanted or unwelcome wildlife. It is more commonly known as “1080”. It is one of the most toxic substances known to exist in the world. There is no known antidote. It is a white, odourless and tasteless poison. It is considered a chemical of national security concern by the Federal Australian government.
Despite claims that it is target-specific, it is frequently ingested by and kills non-target animals, like companion dogs. It is in the same restricted regulatory schedule as other notorious poisons like arsenic or cyanide.
VERDICT: 1080 poison is inhumane, indiscriminate, slow-acting and unacceptable to a growing cohort of the Australian community.
1080 poison fatally interferes with the body by starving calcium and energy from cells. It inhibits the proper functioning of the citric acid cycle (a central metabolic pathway used by animals, plants, and even some bacteria). This cycle is the final mechanism the body uses to convert food to energy.
The ultimate cause of death is the disruption of the proper functioning of the mitochondria (the “powerhouse” of cells), which converts fluoroacetate into fluorocitrate. Because this conversion takes time to be absorbed, there is a lag between ingestion, the onset of symptoms and death. This lag time can be anywhere between 30 minutes and many hours.
1080 inhibits energy production in most cells of the body. The most effected organs are the central nervous system (‘CNS’) and the heart. Symptoms are similar in humans, indicating its toxicity across a wide range of mammals. There is no known antidote.
No. Death by 1080 poison is protracted and cruel; it is not humane.
Though non-target impacts have been the subject of ongoing research for some time, inquiries explicitly concerning its relative humaneness are comparatively new.
Contemporary studies have assessed humaneness on the basis of simply finding dead animals the day after baiting, or recording behaviour for only the first few hours after ingestion. Such assumptions have been permitted and treated as fact for far too long.
Though studies have argued that available evidence indicates that animals are unconscious during the later stages of death, critics have argued that it is impossible to draw conclusions from flawed experiments. Indeed, EEGs of poisoned animals have produced results consistent with the experience of intense pain and distress.
Animals poisoned with 1080 scream, vomit, defecate and suffer violent and prolonged seizures. They die with a final convulsion up to 48 hours (two entire days) after ingesting the poison. For a first-hand, eye-witness account of death by 1080, see the Resources section of this website.
For over a decade, as Australia’s leading animal welfare organisation, the RSPCA has held that 1080 is “not humane” and therefore they are “opposed to its continued use”.
The late Dr. Peter Rawlinson, conservationist and lecturer in Zoology at La Trobe University, said of 1080: “Animals can take up to four days to die from it. Others go out of control after they have ingested it – they tear around banging into trees. It is impossible to say the animal is not suffering”.
No. The alleged resistance of native species is one of the most prevalent and dangerous myths propagated about 1080 poison. It is misleading and based upon evolutionary defense strategies some native pea-producing plant species have developed against herbivory (i.e., the consumption of their leaves or peas by herbivores).
In reality, animals in Australia vary significantly in their sensitivity to 1080. None have developed “immunity” or resistance to it. This is amply shown by ongoing baiting targeting native species in Tasmania.
There are a myriad of myths associated with 1080 poison. Many of these myths have been enthusiastically peddled by proponents of the poison. That Australian animals are safe is one of the most common and dangerous.
Despite claims that many Australian species are safe, countless examples of native animals dying due to it belie this assertion. It is the Coalition’s position that even if some native species are less susceptible to 1080, this does not justify the use of such a dangerous chemical in the killing of unwanted or unwelcome wildlife.
No. This is another myth spread about 1080 poison. It is based upon the immunity myth and the assumption that some species have developed a degree of resistance via evolutionary exposure to natural sources of fluoroacetate in native pea-producing plants.
Studies have shown that the consumption of a single fox bait containing 3 milligrams of 1080 poison can be lethal for up to five native animals. This is amplified if the bait is intended for canids (6mg per bait). Other iconic native Australian species that may be killed by a single dose of 1080 are the Grey shrike-thrush (Colluricinela harmonica), the Laughing kookaburra (Dacelo novageuinae) and the Sulphur-crested cockatoo (Cacatua galerita). A single bait can also kill the Long-nosed potoroo (Potorous tridactylus), the Common brushtail possum (Trichosurus vulpecula), the Tasmanian bettong (Bettongia gaimardi), the Swamp rat (Rattus lutreolus) or the Eastern quoll (Dasyurus viverrinus).
1080 threatens all lifeforms and no animal can be considered safe during or after a baiting program.
It is known that the toxic effects of 1080 can continue to persist in carcasses and pose a secondary threat to native animals for up to 75 days after the first death. Even after inevitable death and decay, 1080 residue may remain in the carcass or bone of poisoned animals. Crows, other birds and even rodents have been shown to move baits into suburban backyards, leading in some cases to scores of companion animal deaths. Even the vomit of poisoned animals can pose a threat to any animal that may consume it. The specificity myth is another tool used to rationalise the use of 1080 poison.
Yes. 1080 is toxic to all aerobic organisms (any animal dependent upon oxygen). This includes humans.
Symptoms of 1080 poisoning in humans range from vomiting, convulsions, loss of consciousness, irregular cardiac functioning, respiratory and acute renal failure. Seizures are often the most common feature. Consciousness becomes increasingly impaired over time, ultimately leading to coma. Similar symptoms are frequently cited in other animals after ingesting 1080 poison.
Postmortem autopsies have revealed cerebellar degeneration and atrophy (severe deterioration and damage of nerve cells in the area of the brain primarily responsible for coordination and balance). Expert advice given in the event of accidental or deliberate 1080 poisoning in humans maintains that “little can be done to prevent [the] progression of cardiac symptoms”.
The extremely poor animal welfare impacts of 1080 poison have been well-known for some time.
Studies have acknowledged that the physical symptoms exhibited by poisoned animals are “strongly suggestive of severe distress”. Others have shown that animals dying of 1080 continue to respond to painful stimuli. That “the worst symptoms appear after loss of consciousness” means that the suffering continues into the inevitable coma.
It is the Coalition’s position that 1080 poison constitutes one of Australia’s most important contemporary animal welfare issues.
1080 poison is an outdated and cruel tool that has no place in contemporary Australia. Symptoms of 1080 poisoning may persist for up to four days after initial ingestion. The “severe signs” of 1080 poisoning include tachypnoea (abnormally rapid breathing), dyspnoea (shortness of breath), and tremors. Eyewitness accounts of companion dog poisoning often describe periods of apparent lucidity followed by prolonged stretches of manic behaviour, including dogs throwing themselves against walls, barbed wire fences and bleeding from all orifices. It is not target-specific and poses a fatal threat to all species capable of ingesting baits of various kinds.
No. 1080 was first used in Australia in the early 1950s to control wild rabbits. When it was initially used by Australian agriculturalists, the acute toxicity of 1080 was still misunderstood. This led to scores of “non-target” animal deaths. Flocks of sheep were reportedly poisoned after being let loose to feed on land baited only four days before. The same year, a total of 490 sheep, 31 dogs, 26 cats, over 100 kangaroos, and an unspecified “large number” of starlings and black birds were recorded as dying due to 1080 poison in the north east Royal George region of Tasmania alone.
As early as 1954, Australian proponents of the 1080 poison started to erroneously state that “smear campaigns” had been concocted regarding 1080. The same misguided rhetoric is used today to downplay the legitimate concerns of Australian citizens. The truth is, it is a choice to use 1080. We can choose not to be cruel.
Australia continues to use 1080 because it is relatively easy to apply, is particularly potent, and is comparatively cheap to produce and use. It’s use is regularly rationalised by claims about the impacts unwanted or unwelcome animals have on native wildlife or agricultural production.
Though it is currently approved for use across all Australian States and Territories, some local Councils have refused to use it. Recently, the Blue Mountains City Council unanimously voted against it.
Despite regulations on its manufacture, labelling, handling, storage, supply, use, retrieval and disposal, innocent animals are regularly killed in baiting programs.
Australia is one of the few remaining countries that considers the use of 1080 poison acceptable. However, a growing cohort of the community is against it. It is time that we caught up with the rest of the world and urgently ban 1080 across the country.
Currently, Australia uses 1080 poison to kill 8 native and introduced species: rabbits (Orcytolagus cuniculus), dingoes (Canis dingo), foxes (Vulpes vulpes), wild pigs (Sus scrafa), “feral” cats (Felis catus), brush-tail possums (Trichosurus vulpecula), Bennett’s or red-necked wallabies (Macropus rufogriseus), and Tasmanian pademelons (Thylogale billardierii). Dingoes are routinely referred to as “wild dogs” in a cynical attempt to maintain the social license of 1080 in Australia, despite substantial evidence that it represents a significant threat to dingo populations.
Though these are the “target” species, an untold number of other animals from a range of species are killed in the process. These deaths are considered collateral.
Simply tabulating the species currently targeted with 1080 does not give an accurate account of the species actually killed by the poison.
The Coalition’s position is that Australia must urgently and proactively catch up with the rest of the world. We must initiate an urgent phase-out of 1080 across the country.
Current Australian State law imposes obligations on Councils, citizens and landholders to “control” unwanted or unwelcome wildlife. This is on the basis of alleged social, environmental, or economic impacts.
Specific State and Territory legislation can be found in the My State section of this website.
Spates of companion animal poisonings reveal the indiscriminate and cruel nature of 1080 poison. They also reveal the inadequate nature of the current regulatory system.
Up to forty-one plant species are known to naturally produce monofluoroacetate. The naturally-occurring chemical is primarily found in their leaves, flowers, or seeds. This is not the same substance used in industrially manufactured baits.
As early as 1944, the acid component of the toxin was found in a South African plant (Dichapetalum cymosum), which had long been recognised as a potent threat to livestock when ingested. Other plants native to Brazil (Palicourea margravii) and West Africa (Dichapetalum toxicarium and Chailletia toxicacia) were found to contain the acidic element as well.
Of the forty-one identified Australian species, thirty-nine of these (all of the Gastrolobium genus) are confined to a small corner of Western Australia. The remaining two are found in Northern and Central Australia. No other areas contain any. Concentrations of the chemical vary regionally, seasonally, among species, and between specific parts of the plant.
Animals, including mammals, have co-existed with these species and, as such, have developed varying degrees of tolerance to it. Importantly, such differences are thought to depend upon the time and extent their ancestors have included parts of a plant (or another animal who does so) in their regular diet. Given these variables, predicting potential impacts is problematic if not impossible. So-called “unadapted” animals, for example, are thought to be at more risk during baiting programs than target species are.
Though 1080 is known to naturally occur in some native pea brushes, claims of natural resistance are best treated with caution. Arguments that 1080 is natural are akin to maintaining that the baits contain the peas of plants not an industrially produced poison the Australian government has identified as a chemical of nationally security concern.
Australia is second only to New Zealand in the wholesale use 1080 poison. Though New Zealand outcompetes Australia in terms of quantity, Australia has adopted methods not seen anywhere else in the world. For example, during an Australian program an experimental capsule of 1080 poison was subcutaneously inserted into the bodies of wild-caught dingoes (Google “Pelorus Island dingoes”). Elsewhere, so-called “toxic Trojan bait” programs have been developed by Australian researchers. These similarly involve the surgical insertion of 1080 capsules into prey species under the logic that predatory species will succumb after preying upon them and ingesting the poison.
As many of our mothers might say, “if everyone jumped off a bridge would you do so too?” Simply because others do it doesn’t mean we have to.
The fact that we are in the overwhelming minority of countries that continue to permit the use of 1080 poison ought to indicate the urgency of catching up with the rest of the world.
A range of alternatives to 1080 poisoning exist. These acknowledge that many modern ecosystems are vibrant collections of native and introduced animals.
As it applies to instances in which 1080 is used to kill predatory animals, there are a gamut of options available. These can be other fatal methods, like alternative poisons, or they can be strictly non-lethal techniques. These include sterilisation programs or the deployment of livestock guardian animals (‘LGAs’).
In terms of biodiversity conservation, the use of 1080 in baits or other devices is often rationalised as a benevolent practice that poses negligent risks to the animals it claims to protect. It has been shown, however, that this is not the case. Native herbivores like wallabies and pademelons are actively targeted with 1080 in Tasmania.
Non-lethal alternatives to 1080 poison are available and operational. These can be employed on a case-by-case basis as it is appropriate to context and site particularities.
There is evidence that the presence of predatory species plays an important role in healthy ecosystem functioning, in part by regulating the populations of others. Despite being extensively persecuted across the country since colonial settlement, the role and presence of the dingo has been tied to the presence of intact threatened species.
The Coalition promotes the principles of compassionate conservation over a reliance on cruel and often ineffective lethal measures.
The following excerpt is taken from an eyewitness account documenting the impact 1080 has on poisoned animals. It contains graphic and upsetting material.
“‘Look,’ I said and pricked the cat’s leg with the probe once again, ‘it responds to painful stimuli,’ and on cue the cat twisted about and pawed unsteadily at the place where it had felt the pinprick. It fell once again upon its side and convulsed in turgid spasms and then stiffened, relaxed then stiffened again as it slowly rolled onto its back and cried until too paralysed to vocalise.
The faces of the putty men were grim as they stood in their suits, disorientated, surrounding the cat that I had poisoned with 1080 hours before. Their faces turned ash white and their usual bravado evaporated.
This should not happen. Reams had been written and careers built upon fragile facts. According to the government websites carnivores do not suffer when they are poisoned with 1080. Yet, in truth, very few had seen the outcomes of using this poison on cats. We all knew that this was because no one really wanted to see.
The putty men stood and looked at what they had long championed.
‘How long has it been like this?’ asked one awkwardly, distaste frozen on his face.
‘Hours,’ I replied.
Shiny black shoes shuffled awkwardly on a scuffed laboratory floor.
I had pulled them out of a meeting not long before and they looked out of place standing in the laboratory in suits, bright ties and an atmosphere of aftershave. They would have looked even more out of place in the field where the poison was used; alien in fact.
They eyed me from time to time and gradually their looks accused me for permitting the suffering to continue. The suffering of just a single animal was to be burned into their brains just as the suffering of many had been burned into mine.
‘It’s had enough,’ said one of the putty men, his face screwed up looking at the cat and head bowed as if seeking contrition.
‘Yes, it’s had enough,’ agreed the senior putty man sternly, as if confirming a board motion and trying to re-assert imperious authority lost in the face of suffering.
The young laboratory technician looks emotionally exhausted. I had made him sit with the cat all morning and watch, taking notes, filming and recording the calls of distress. Being a helpless witness to suffering is confronting for all but the pathological. Before today he had widely advertised his contempt for cats, like so many young men who have grown up in the suburbs and discovered a love for the bush – and of course a nemesis.
Weeks back he had proudly shown me his new computer screen saver that shoots cartoon cats, replete with sound effects. He then put up a cartoon on the laboratory door where the experiments are done; ‘I love cats – but I can’t eat a whole one,’ it said. I pull it down, invoking the boogieman by suggesting that if the ethics committee visits it might get us into trouble. They must be ‘cat lovers’ or ‘bunny huggers,’ he concludes, ‘irrational and emotive’.
Eventually, I can’t abide it any longer and draw two syringes from my top pocket and squat next to the cat. It was indeed enough. Even when it had been unseen and anonymous it had been enough. I anaesthetise the cat with an injection and get ready with the blue-green liquid in another syringe.
That afternoon the putty men would carry some of this burden back to their office tower in the city, where they would lean on filling cabinets and linger in tea rooms to whisper new gossip. Tempered collective nouns would replace o once certain personal nouns. ‘We have no alternative,’ they might say, ‘unfortunately it is necessary for us to do this’.
At the same time I would sit with the young technician in my office where he would be embarrassed by his display of emotional vulnerability. Yet there had been many doubts, anguish and tears in my laboratory. He was not the first to be moved, nor should he feel ashamed – quite the contrary.
‘It’s part of the deal you see,’ I tell him, ‘that’s the deal, mate’.
Full access to this paper and many more is freely available at the Resources section of this website.