REPORT: The Truth About 1080
The Truth About 1080: Five Excuses Exposed
1080 poison is an extremely potent chemical used to kill unwanted or unwelcome wildlife. It has been used in Australia since the 1950s, six years after it was first isolated from a South African plant known as ‘Gifblaar’ (Dichapetalum cymosum).
It is in the same restricted regulatory schedule as other notorious toxins like arsenic and cyanide and has been banned in most countries. It is white, odourless and tasteless, making it a potential weapon of mass destruction in warfare. As such, it is considered a chemical of national security concern by the Federal Australian government. There is no known antidote.
There are many myths associated with 1080 poison. Here we tackle five of the most common myths.
1. Native animals are "immune" to 1080 poison
Despite Government documents admitting that native animals are “not immune” to 1080, the supposed resistance some species exhibit is one of the most persistently promoted myths about 1080 poison. It is misleading and serves to provide the practice with a social licence to continue.
This myth is based upon evolutionary defence mechanisms some native legume-producing plant species have developed against herbivory (e.g., the consumption of their leaves or peas by herbivores). In reality, animals in Australia vary significantly in their sensitivity to 1080; none have developed a true or innate “immunity” or resistance to it.
Studies have consistently shown that native mammals, including the vulnerable tuan (Phascogale tapoatafa), the yellow-footed antechinus (Antechinus flavipes), and the common brush tail possum (Trichosurus vulpecula), are capable of accessing 1080 baits buried under up to 15cm of sand. Other studies have shown that quoll populations dramatically decline to the point of local extinction (>100%) in the aftermath of 1080 baiting operations.
2. 1080 is "target specific" and "best practice"
The myth that 1080 is “target specific” and “best practice” is based upon the immunity myth outlined above. It is often cited as “a vital tool in the management” of unwanted wild animals. This stems from the assumption that some species have developed a degree of resistance via evolutionary exposure to natural sources of fluoroacetate in native pea-producing plants (Gastrolobium spp).
Similarly, studies have shown that up to 99% of baits intended to kill foxes are consumed by non-target species, including native Australian animals. This is particularly concerning for vulnerable, rare, endangered, or uncommon species. Free-living brush-tailed phascogales, yellow-footed antechinus (Antechinus flavipes), sugar gliders (Petaurus breviceps) and common brushtail possums (Trichosurus vulpecula) have been shown to locate and consume baits buried up to 10cm deep. Other native species shown to access and consume 1080-laced baits include the vulnerable Quokka and the threatened Quoll.
3. 1080 is "humane" and "painless"
The environmental impact of 1080 has been assessed for some time. Welfare implications, however, have received negligible attention. A significant component of this knowledge gap is “the absence of agreed criteria for assessing humaneness”. There is even marked conflict concerning the definition of the term itself. RPSCA Australia, for example, promote policies that a “humane” death is one wherein either an animal is “killed instantly” or is “instantaneously rendered insensible to pain” until death occurs. State and Territory law, however, merely require individuals to kill animals “without causing excess suffering” while “inflicting no unnecessary pain” or even in a way that is “generally accepted as usual and reasonable”.
This ambiguity and legislative network of exemptions is amplified by the development and application of Codes of Practice (COPs) and Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs). These often acknowledge that 1080 can cause pain and suffering, sometimes for an extended period, yet continue to promote its use because it is cost-effective and subsidised. A range of these Codes and Procedures have been created and developed by State and Commonwealth agencies.
Though it may be presumed that these documents increase protection against cruelty or suffering, they often do the opposite. Many effectively create exemptions for acts that would otherwise be considered animal cruelty. As such, they “provide a barrier against possible prosecution for cruelty”.
Death after ingesting 1080 arrives in waves and may come anywhere between an hour or several days. There is evidence that during latent phases prior to coma and death animals remain sensitive to stimuli. RSPCA Australia maintains that “the effect of 1080 on animals is not humane”. They are therefore “opposed to its continued use”.
4. 1080 is "a necessary evil"
A key component of “the necessary evil” myth is the tension between the harm done to individual animals and the benefits accrued from engaging or facilitating such harm. These benefits can include protection of other animals, ecosystems or economies.
It is becoming increasingly apparent that effective conservation or protection cannot ignore prevailing public values. A contributing factor is the ease with which contemporary citizens can access information and formulate personal or political opinions.
Studies assessing public attitudes towards 1080 have found that a minority of the population are willing to accept collateral deaths of non-target animals as acceptable. The same study found that there is “a wide variation in which methods were acceptable and this variation was specific specific”. Other studies have concluded that attitudes towards control methods are influenced by personal perception of a given species. These attitudes range from a relatively “scorched Earth” approach to unwanted animals to the promotion of “compassionate conservation”.
5. 1080 is "natural"
Sodium fluoroacetate is a tasteless and odourless chemical compound of a very high acute toxicity. Up to 41 plant species are known to naturally produce potassium fluoroacetate, hich occurs naturally as an anti-herbivore metabolite in various plant species, unlike sodium fluoroacetate which is industrially manufactured.
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