The 2009 Bent Spoon Award went to the anti-1080 “Poisoning Paradise” film, which engendered a great deal of response, some of it valedictory, some of it vituperative.
More on the Bent Spoon
More on the reactions
This was followed by a report in the Herald on Sunday that stated “tests” by an electroacupuncture machine had demonstrated that Hauraki Gulf marine life were being killed by poison drops. We responded to that, as did the Department of Conservation.
More on the Herald on Sunday article
More on the DoC response
Given all the heat and misinformation generated by this, it was excellent to see a straightforward report by Vicki Wilkinson-Baker on One News.
See the report on the One News site
We are working on an extended article on 1080 and the general levels of FUD (fear doubt and uncertainty) that surround this issue, in the hopes of shining some sensible discussion and actual facts on the issue. Watch this space!
Skeptics Slam Scare Stories as Endangering the Environment
A documentary which highlights the “distress, cruelty, horror, ecocide, cover-ups and contamination” involved in 1080-based pest control has won the Bent Spoon brickbat from the NZ Skeptics for 2009.
“Poisoning Paradise – Ecocide in New Zealand” claims that 1080 kills large numbers of native birds, poisons soils, persists in water and interferes with human hormones. Hunters-cum-documentary makers Clyde and Steve Graf believe that 1080 has “stuffed the venison business”, and have been travelling the country showing their film since March.
The NZ Skeptics, along with other groups, are concerned that wide media coverage and nation-wide screenings of “Poisoning Paradise” will lead to a political push, rather than a scientifically based one, to drop 1080 as a form of pest control, with nothing effective to replace it. United Future leader Peter Dunne appeared in the film, and described 1080 as “an indiscriminate untargeted killer”. Emotions run high in the debate, with one anti-1080 campaigner going so far as to hijack a helicopter at gunpoint and last month threatening to die on Mount Tongariro unless the documentary received prime-time billing.
“Members of the NZ Skeptics are involved in various conservation efforts across the country. They have seen first-hand the effectiveness of 1080 drops and the brutal ineffectiveness of attempts to control pests by trapping and hunting, even in the smaller fenced arks, let alone in more rugged, isolated areas like Hawdon Valley or Kahurangi National Park,” says Skeptics Chair-entity Vicki Hyde.
“People say that 1080 is cruel – so is a possum when it rips the heads off kokako chicks. Environmental issues aren’t simple. We are forever walking a difficult balancing act. At this stage, 1080 is the best option for helping our threatened species hang on or, even better, thrive. It would be devastating for our wildlife were we to abandon this.”
Hyde has a particular interest in this area, having served for eight years on the Possum Biocontrol Bioethics Committee, alongside representatives from Forest & Bird, the RNZSPCA and Ngai Tahu. Over the past 20 years she has seen 1080 use become more effective with the advent of better knowledge and application methods, and acknowledges that there is always room for improvement.
“We would dearly love a quick, cheap, humane, highly targeted means of getting rid of possums and other pests but until that day comes, we cannot ignore the clear and present danger to our native wildlife. To do so would be environmentally irresponsible in the extreme.”
Hyde notes that people should be careful in taking documentaries at face value. A 2007 TV3 documentary “Let Us Spray”, and related news material, has just been cited as unbalanced, inaccurate and unfair by the Broadcasting Standards Authority.
“We tend to assume that documentaries are balanced and tell us the whole story, but the increased use of advocacy journalism doesn’t mean this is always the case. After all, remember that psychic charades in programmes like ‘Sensing Murder’ are marketed as reality programmes!”
The NZ Skeptics also applaud the following, with Bravo Awards, for demonstrating critical thinking over the past year:
- Rebecca Palmer, for her article The Devil’s in the Details (The Dominion Post 15 June 2009) pointing out that the makutu case owed more to “The Exorcist” than to tikanga Maori.
“Exorcism rituals, regardless of where they come from, have been shown to harm people, psychologically and physically. There are over 1,000 cases of murder, death and injury recorded on the whatstheharm.net website purely as a result of exorcisms reported in the Western world press over the past 15 years. There are thousands more that occur, for the most part unregarded, in places like Africa, South America or Papua New Guinea. These are all needless victims, often injured by people who care for them and who tragically just didn’t stop to think about the nature of what they were doing.”
- Closeup for Hannah Ockelford’s piece Filtering the Truth (11 Sept 2009), regarding the dodgy sales tactics by an Australian organisation which claims that New Zealand’s tap water can cause strokes, heart attacks, cancer and miscarriages. Paul Henry described the Australian promoter as a shyster using scare tactics targeting vulnerable people.
“This sort of solid investigative reporting makes a welcome change from the celeb and animal stories that so often pass for news and current affairs these days.”
- Rob Harley and Anna McKessar for their documentary The Worst That Could Happen (Real Crime, TV1, 29 July 2009). They took a hard look at the increasing tendency for accusations of accessing computer porn to be made on unfounded grounds, and how it can have devastating consequences for people.
“Unprotected Internet use can be as life-changing as unprotected sex. It is disturbingly easy to have your computer unwittingly contaminated, and that makes people very vulnerable to job dismissals or even prosecutions on the most circumstantial of evidence.”
- Colin Peacock and Jeremy Rose of Mediawatch on Radio New Zealand National
“Every week Colin and Jeremy cast a critical eye on New Zealand media. That’s something we all should be doing in demanding that we get thoughtful, informed news and analysis from our media.”
You’ve got Mail – Initial Reactions to the Bent Spoon
An inspired bent spoon award and a truly important contribution to NZ wildlife conservation!
Please stop making silly statements about stuff you eat up from Forest and Bird folks. These people spend time and effort finding strange ways of deluding others. Try and talk to the workers in our bush and see what they have to say about the way things really are. If you folks keep on the track you are going, we will be hearing things like, cyanide is good for you because it occurs naturally in almonds. Get off the 1080 case. Learn some stuff first. Then make statements.
1080 poisoning may be a necessary evil but there is no comparison between dying a slow agonizing poison induced death and having your head ripped off in a swift natural act of nature.
The feathered / furry cuteness of the victim does not change the agony.
Despite a personal hatred of people who go hunting as ‘sport’ I suspect that no one who has been brought close to death by poison would countenance widespread poisoning as acceptably humane.
This is a brilliant [award]. Makes me proud to be a Skeptic.
Thank you, a GREAT choice for the bent spoon.
I expect a great deal of stirring will be done with said bent spoon but maybe the blunt end will pry open a few minds.
I know that the pattern of 1080 air drops in the Tararuas is to be changed to areas of no drops, 6 yearly and 3 yearly, bowing to the hunting lobby pressure. A ten year bird count is to start in October/ November this year to monitor birds in the three zones. I believe drops are currently done every 6 years – not enough to save mistletoe – drops every three years should do that.
You lot make me laugh.I bet you have never been out in the bush and seen what 1080 does.Footage not enough for ya .Believe everything the government tells you.You live in youre own self important world.fkn tossers the lot if you.Believe in god? lmfao.
You wankers – you obviously have no proof for your point of view, but obviously are swayed by popular politics and the need to get on TV while you have a nice little conference.
If the skeptics can bring some sense into debates such as this, we are not just having a bit of fun; we have a mission.
In fact the scientific evidence is overwhelming (not merely adequate) that 1080 is a very effective poison for killing pests in native forest especially where it is not feasible to use other methods (such as individually controlled bait lines and traps). While there may be some bycatch of non-target species such as native and endemic birds the main effect far outweighs this. There is a significant regeneration of flora and fauna after the use of 1080.
Nevertheless despite an array of equally unsound evidence, and after an extremely comprehensive review, ERMA certified the continued use of 1080. One of its merits is that unlike some other poisons (such as brodifacoum) it biodegrades extremely quickly.
[There is concern that the film it could] stimulate so much resistance to the use of 1080 that DOC might be forced to stop using it with the concomitant result that conservation would be significantly retarded.
Obviously deer hunters are not going to be fans of 1080 but then deer are a pest that needs to be controlled (and ideally exterminated completely) if one wants to allow the forest to regenerate.
I recall that we gave the Bent Spoon Award some years ago to those who were promoting possum peppering as a means to control possums. I suggest that using pseudo science and anecdote to denigrate the use of 1080 through the film ‘Poisoning Paradise’ is likely to be much more deleterious for sound science-based conservation in New Zealand.
Please continue your fight for rationality on this stuff, our native wildlife needs you!
Poisons Story Shows April Fool Comes Early for Herald on Sunday
Correction: Herald on Sunday Made the Gaffe, not the NZ Herald
A senior member of the NZ Herald’s editorial department has taken us to task for using the NZ Herald’s name in our initial response to the Herald on Sunday EAV story, stating that the story was not run in the New Zealand Herald.
We apologise for assuming that the Herald on Sunday was part of the NZ Herald’s operations. We were confused by the fact that the online material is run under the NZ Herald masthead, within the nzherald.co.nz domain name with no indication on the byline that the Herald on Sunday edition was a separate stand-alone publication. They share common ownership, a common contact page and the corporate website lists them as one with one common link (New Zealand Herald & Herald on Sunday).
We thought initially that the comment was an attempt to distance the senior paper from its more tabloid sub-species, but that’s apparently not the case. The editor tasked us to live up to our own standards of accuracy, hence this correction.
In closing, when dealing with shonky claims and gullible stories, we often say if it looks like a duck, swims like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s probably a duck. In this case, it’s clearly a mallard….
A claim that you can detect poisons in Haruaki Gulf marine life via a discredited electro-acupuncture technique has been swallowed whole cloth by the Herald on Sunday.
The paper printed the claim (September 27) under the heading “Samples positive for poison”, citing campaigner Sarah Silverstar. Marine birds, oysters and dog vomit were apparently “tested in an Auckland clinic by EAV machine” and found to contain brodifacoum and 1080.
EAV machines combine acupuncture with tiny measurements of the skin’s electrical resistance, claiming variously to map energy imbalances, detect AIDs viruses or correct imbalances in the immune system. Although popular in the alternative health industry, a number of civil, criminal and professional board actions around the globe have been taken against proponents for misleading claims, false advertising and even manslaughter.
“This is like saying your fridge magnet can tell if you have swine flu,” says Vicki Hyde, Chair of the NZ Skeptics. “What’s next – will the Herald’s political reporters recommend that Parliament sit only when the Moon is in Scorpio? Or will they get their weather page information from chicken entrails?”
There is a serious point to these examples, says Hyde.
“With more media employing less experienced journalists, we can expect more truly silly stories to be run by the press. The tragedy in this case is that it involves important issues for the New Zealand environment.”
The claims were made despite many different bodies citing testing by independent scientists, veterinary surgeons and pathologists which showed no symptoms of such poisoning in the dogs, dolphins, penguins, fish and shellfish checked. Information on these results is publicly available on the Department of Conservation website. Furthermore, 1080 has not been used on any Gulf Islands since at least 2004.
Sarah Silverstar even admitted in her original email that testing by a reputable body showed there was no detectable traces at all in the penguin samples, but rejected this evidence.
“so what? these EAV test results prove the EXTREME sensitivity of life to these toxins. We are talking parts per billion, parts per trillion.”
[all errors/cap in original]
“We wish that the Herald’s reporters had taken a moment to wonder what EAV testing did and whether it was a credible claim,” says Hyde. “By all means critique the use of 1080 – that’s how application practices have improved over the years, after all – and keep looking for better alternatives. But our native flora and fauna, and how we save them from introduced pests, are far too important issues to be treated so naively.”
Links to Materials Mentioned in the Story
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DOC questions poison claims
Press Release by Department of Conservation at 4:38 pm, 28 Sep 2009
The Department of Conservation is urging Waiheke Island environmental group Ocean Aware to have samples of marine birds, oysters and dog vomit independently tested by accredited laboratories.
The Herald on Sunday reported yesterday that Ocean Aware’s Sarah Silverstar had carried out tests on samples collected from Rangitoto and Waiheke using an EAV machine. Ocean Aware claimed the tests showed brodifacoum or 1080 in all samples – including one Waiheke resident.
The newspaper neglected to mention that EAV machines, often used by holistic health centres, simply measure the electrical resistance of the skin. They are not used by accredited laboratories for diagnostic testing.
“How such a machine could possibly register the presence of brodifacoum or 1080 is beyond belief – we have not used 1080 on any Gulf islands for over six years,” says DOC’s acting Auckland Area manager Phil Brown.
“It’s very concerning that Ocean Aware is relying on pseudoscience to test their samples. If they are really concerned they should urgently commission tests – particularly for the local Waiheke resident – from accredited testing laboratories.”
Phil Brown said it was also a major concern that Ocean Aware apparently ignored earlier test results on penguins – that they themselves had commissioned from independent laboratory Landcare – which came back negative for brodifacoum.
National Poisons Centre director Wayne Temple says the poison centre “does not support the use of EAV testing since it is a methodology which has not been scientifically validated.”
“Some practitioners make very wild claims about EAV testing and what it is capable of diagnosing. The US FDA has banned importation of EAV devices into the United States and warned or prosecuted some marketers,” he says
NZ Food Safety Authority toxicologist John Reeve says that EAV testing was investigated in the 1980s and was “thoroughly discredited”.
“It has never been scientifically validated.Attempts to have it scientifically tested during the 2,4,5-T debate were turned down,” he says.
Phil Brown says the latest claims seem to be part of an ongoing misinformation campaign to undermine the Department’s pest-eradication programmes and the use of both 1080 and brodifacoum.
Tests commissioned by DOC – which revealed low-level traces of brodifacoum in some of the penguins tested – were carried out by independent laboratory Landcare.