Can we stop the lying about possums and Tb now please?

One of the reasons that we are told about why we need to carpet bomb our forests with 1080 is that we need to protect our dairy industry from Tb.

And it is a fair enough reason, if it is true. Surely we can’t risk dairy for some little Aussie imports who carry it?

And most of us would agree. But what if we are being lied to?

5862 (2015). Richard Prosser to the Minister for Primary Industries (18 May 2015): How many, if any, possums were dissected to look for Tb for each of the past ten years, and of these, how many were found to have Tb?

Hon Nathan Guy (Minister for Primary Industries ) replied: TBFree New Zealand (previously the Animal Health Board) have been carrying out necroscopy surveillance of possums and other wildlife since 2007. In the 2007/2008 year 4871 possums were surveyed with no Tb infections found, in 2008/2009 13,874 surveyed with 9 found, in 2009/2010 23,339 surveyed with 6 found, in 2010/2011 17576 surveyed with 1 found, in 2011/2012 25,103 surveyed with 9 found, in 2012/2013 18,682 surveyed with 12 found, in 2013/2014 10,930 surveyed with 17 found and in the 2014/2015 year 9,838 possums were surveyed with no infected possums found.

Take 2009 numbers…the only reasonable survey numbers for possum suggests that in 2009 there were 30 million possums. Extrapolate the survey figures and you around 7712 possums out of 30 million have Tb. In humans in New Zealand we had a tuberculosis rate of 7.0¬†per 100,000 in 2009, and it is a notifiable disease so in 2009 there were 671 cases of Tb.

Are we really saying that 7712 possums are threatening our entire dairy industry? With all the 1080 being carpet bombed in supposed Tb areas surely the number of possums is much less now, and surely from the figures given there is almost no Tb now in many areas.

Then we need to look at the survey methodology which may in fact be inflating the numbers. Because from what I have seen in presentations and from ESR sites it appears that surveys are conducted only where Tb is present, thereby inflating the statistics.

Of course the scientists should allow for that in their calculations…but given the vested interests and the need to keep selling sodium fluoroacetate (1080) in increasing quantities. The guys who have the sole production facility in NZ certainly want to keep on banking the tens of millions a year they get from pimping their poison.

The numbers don’t stack up…and at 0-0.2% incidence of Tb in possums it is about the same as in humans.



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  • Toby

    I can see the point, but isn’t there also an argument for controlling possums from a native bird perspective?

    Is TB the sole reason for controlling possums.

    • geoff

      It’s not just birds. Why do you think native trees have those aluminium bands on them? Have a look at the condition of native bush where there is possum infestation.

    • Shame the 1080 kills the birds faster than the possums.

      • Toby

        I dunno about that, I’ve always thought that was a bit of a myth.
        I’ve never seen a study or any scientific proof to prove it.

        I live very close to the Tararua forest park, and there are two sections in there close to Mt Bruce where Doc have hammered 1080 and traps for 10 years to try and completely wipe out pests as an experiment. Those forests are absolutely teaming with birds now and the contrast between those two areas and the forest outside of those areas is quite stark. The trees are also in far better health.

        It might kill the odd bird but the general population seems to do much better. I kind of think that if it killed birds as bad as people say it does, those areas would be wiped out.

      • Jono

        I haven’t read anything or seen any evidence (asides from pretty videos with no factual content from the Graff boys) to support that statement.
        Got any facts Cam?

  • Justsayn

    If TB was the real issue farmers ought to be paying for the 1080 – corporate welfare?

    To me the real issue with possums is the damage they do do the environment. TB risk might be a side issue, if an issue at all.

    1080 seems the best alternative we have, and I don’t buy the “experts are all wrong” camp on this any more than I do on fluoridation or MMR vaccination.

  • kehua

    A better statistic to get would be, the number of reactors to cattle TB tests, the number of lesions discovered at the Meat Processing plants for both cattle and deer. The value of just killing the monkeys to support regrowth in the Native Forests justifies baitng the
    highcount areas.

    • Kopua Cowboy

      I spoke to the testing bloke a few weeks ago and the number of reactors are rapidly shrinking as their testing regime gets better, don’t have a number for you though sorry

  • cows4me

    It’s an industry like any other that is well entrenched and big money is involved. “Protecting the dairy industry”, maybe but this a diversion so all those urban Melons can froth at the mouth at the dirty farmers will their beloved forests are carpet bombed to kill pests. Better to blame farmers than attract attention to those making the real decisions on the use of 1080.

  • Michelle

    If people were incentivised to go and trap possums and get paid for doing it, so much per possum then it would be worthwhile and more people would go out

    There are also some areas where trappers are not allowed to go and they also seem to be the areas of greater possum numbers

    the money poured into 1080 would be better spent on getting people trapping and shooting like they used to
    l remember people going out on weekends shooting and trapping as it was good money and topped up their income and was a bit of sport at the same time
    could be worth looking at again

    there are certain areas where there is TB in possums but it doesn’t need the blanket spreading of poison just use people power

    • kehua

      Unfortunately Michelle it is damn hard to work and the dreamers and weak just can`t hack it. Plucked fur is currently around $105 per kilo and demand is high, on average around trhe country it takes about 12-15 possums to make a kilo. If they wanted to pluckers could make quite a good living, but even so they would have little impact on the possum population.

      • Spiker

        30 years ago there were still young people like myself at the time keen to get out in the bush trapping & poisoning possums & we made good money. Try & find any decent number of young people willing to do that now.

      • Michelle

        Takes about 25 possums up here to get a kg and there are quite a few doing it full time for money but some are running out of places to get into and most of them want the easy stuff where they can take their bikes, they don’t seem to want to walk these days

        we are close to a couple of state forests and the amount of possums that come from them is amazing and you can see the damage to the trees there

        we shoot possums and pluck them regularly here and trap and you think fine we will be good for a week or so but next night the next lot have moved in

        we used to have a dog that found them in the day time which was very handy but sadly no longer and the possums are getting so cunning they are now running away as soon as they hear you coming, they used to hide in the trees

        got one of those good nature traps but they have worked that one out and now only get the occasional newby/young one none of the big old ones

        • taurangaruru

          Probably why the 1080 is such an effective solution.

        • kehua

          My G`son 10yo has a Border Terrier that finds them in the daytime and kills them real quick, the amazing thing is where `Gus` finds them.

    • Grizz30

      That will not work. The NZ bush is so vast that you could only trap possums around the fringes. Also possums are just one of the many vermin 1080 is trying to eradicate.

    • The easy work…near boundaries of farms are already well trapped and poisoned. The possums are now in the deep forest…where trapping is a ridiculous proposition.

      I just want the lying to stop…then look at ways of killing possums without killing birds.

      • Michelle

        Agree with you about not killing birds and after all these years they should have a more effective methods of targeting just possums but with big money involved any small guys with new ideas don’t seem to get a look in

        • Toby

          Its not just possums, its Possums, Rats and Stoats.
          The huge advantage with 1080 over anything else is that it is a 3 way killer. Possums and Rats eat it and are both killed by it, but then predators like stoats eat the dead possums and rats which also kills the stoats.

          No other poison comes close to that, you would have to lay 3 different poisons to target the three different species and one of them would likely have a bi-catch.

          The fact that 1080 dissolves in water and becomes harmless is also another major factor in why it is used so much and is so effective.

          They also now add cinnamon to it which birds absolutely hate, that is a recent change that has made a huge difference.
          You try sprinkling some cinnamon on a piece of bread and throw it out to the birds, they won’t touch it.

      • Jono

        What evidence do you have that 1080 negatively impacts the bird populations?

    • The Accountant

      In India they had a bounty for Snakes being bought in. Snake Farms shot up everywhere overnight.

    • Toby

      Michelle, they tried this in the past.
      The problem is that trappers only want to get the easy ones.
      So they end up introducing possums to easy access areas in order to keep the numbers up. There is a famous case of a trapper up north introducing possums to an area that had been totally eradicated because he didn’t want his income stream to dry up.

      So in theory it sounds good, but in reality the incentive is to actually have as many possums as possible so they are easy to trap and make lots of money. What we really want the incentive to be is eradication, that is much harder to come up with a business model for because once they have been eradicated, the money stops flowing.

  • geoff3012

    Not just possums but rats and stoats and other pests causing problems and killing native birds etc

    • Grizz30

      That is just the point. The real lies are that 1080 poison is about possums tb and the dairy industry. The reality is that forests and the native wildlife are at risk from introduced pests for which possums are simply the most visible. If Prosser and his mates have a better solution for keeping our forests healthy then let’s hear it.

      • Toby

        Where are these “Lies” I keep hearing about?
        I just looked at both the DOC website and which is run by fed farmers, and TB is a minor side note, hardly ever mentioned.

        Who is saying the main reason we use 1080 is for TB control?
        I really haven’t heard that in years until Cam posted this article today.

  • STAG

    Bombs away!! 1080 works, it kills pests and saves our native birds, so what if the odd dog dies? So what if deer die? Just means it’s working, bring in more I say.

    • It kills our native birds…ever been in a zone after a 1080 drop…i have…death everywhere.

      • Justsayn

        Even if that was so (and I’m not sure that your experience is reflected in the scientific studies), what was it like when you went back 2, 5, or 10 years later? Isn’t that the real test of whether or not it is a good idea?

        • Toby

          I think this is the most important point. I have two high density 1080 areas very close to me in the Tararuas and both the bird life and forest health is stunning, Its like going back in time to what NZ forests must of used to be like.

      • STAG

        This from someone who just boasted about dispatching 200 goats in Taranaki? 1080 kills pests, its very good at riding the environment of larger anaimls and allowing natural birdlife to return. It has its draw backs but its effectiveness cannot be dismissed.

        • HR

          I guess the difference is that killing 200 goats didn’t kill anything else by way of collateral damage

      • Eagerly awaiting who done it

        I saw it first hand while out hunting. crossed from one valley to another they had bombed (was the edge of the target area) and it was like night and day. Two valleys over to the clear area it was normal sounds etc, but two into the kill zone and its eerily quiet. No birds, no deer sign or pig sign apart from the occassional bloated corpse. No pictures (digital camera wasnt a thing then – LOL).

        Ruined the area. Never went back. Disgusted with our fake green NZ image.

        • Mighty1

          Maybe it was quieter because it was day time in one valley and night time in the other? Or the birds flew to another spot. There is nothing Green about a bush full of possums, deer, rats, pigs, and stoats. Like suggest a better way that works and then there will have no problem convincing to stop using 1080. Blame the I D 10 T that introduced these pests in the first place.

        • Backdoor

          Maybe you should have gone back and had a good look several months later. Areas I have visited post 1080 drops have increased bird life.

          • Eagerly awaiting who done it

            Yeah maybe, but to be honest it broke my heart to see an area I loved to hunt in turned into a graveyard.

            Maybe it is back and better than ever. One day I might go back.

      • Jono

        Anecdotal vs empirical evidence.
        What did you see? ir was it just a feeling of “death” because that could be that up until recently that area was chocka of predators..

  • bevanjs

    30 million possums is the only stat needed.

  • maggiecat

    Bioimmunocontraceptive vaccines sound promising…?landcare is the name of the R&D outfit researching this biological control.

  • Doc45

    When you do see an opossum with TB you would see why they have to be eradicated. They run pus at the mouth, nose, eyes and anus. One animal can infect a dairy herd in a very short time by fouling pasture. We had over 100 cows react to TB when we let up one year on killing the rotters – before 1080. That nearly brought us to our knees.

    The tragedy is that alternative eradication options have not been pursued with the urgency needed.

  • Backdoor

    Now please explain all that to the dairy farmer in the Taupo region who lost 143 of his 145 dairy heifers by reacting to tb. When an opossum trapping programme was conducted on his property tb was found in tone opossum. It only take one opossum to do the damage.

    The pathologists at Ruakura claimed the bacteria were so virulent they would only handle the specimen in a virus cabinet. And that was after the specimen had been in formalin for several days.

  • Spiker

    1080 wouldn’t be anywhere near as contentious if it didn’t have a habit of cleaning out a few deer at the same time as dealing to the local possum population.
    While initially the drop in bird life seems bad they come back pretty quick & way stronger than before. That’s my humble anecdotal opinion anyway.

  • Peter

    I work on the TBfree programme (Peter Alsop) – conflict declared – but read on if you prefer fact over fiction. You’d rightly be worried if we spent money dissecting possums where we are really sure there is disease. In such areas, we don’t waste money slicing-and-inspecting unnecessarily, we spend it on knocking the possum population low enough – and then keeping it low enough – for TB to disappear. When we’re confident of disease eradication, we switch spending to slicing-and-inspecting to be sure the disease is gone. If we’ve done our job well, hey presto, you find no TB possums (or very very few to have confidence the disease won’t regain a foothold). So, very few TB possums = good job and good news for our funders and NZ. Money then travels to the next priority area to keep up the fight and stopping reinfection (what we call ‘buffering’). Stopping too early = risk of disease reemergence; ask any farmer about that sad story a couple of decades ago (1700 gutted farmers and communities with widespread consequences – now we are just under 50 infected herds). As someone noted below, it only takes one infected possum to ruin a livelihood … and sometimes a marriage, family and community spirit. Debating the merit of the programme, and cost level (given big bikkies) is highly commendable … but asking a few questions of the right people is also a good ole’ fashioned good idea. The TB plan is also under review now (reevaluating the right shape and size and key settings); public consultation coming soon.