Susan Bidwell, MPH 2012
The use of 1080 for pest control by the Department of Conservation (DoC) and the Animal Health Board (AHB) is officially considered the only viable means of preventing environmental damage from possums and protecting farming from the spread of bovine tuberculosis in the West Coast region. Although 1080 has been used for decades in New Zealand, opposition to its use has intensified in recent years, particularly to aerial 1080. The public discourse revolves around the magnitude and likelihood of risks to the environment and human health, within a wider societal climate where the importance of avoiding such risks is taken for granted. Public health staff in the region spend significant time investigating complaints about misapplied 1080 baits and discussing health concerns. To date, however, there has been little formal investigation of community attitudes and reasons for the opposition to 1080. This study sought to discover how different sectors of the community perceived 1080, and how they explained why they held those views. In-depth interviews were held with twelve key informants recruited from organisations and groups that were already publicly identified as supporting or opposing 1080. Data from the interviews were analysed thematically within a framework of contemporary socio-cultural risk theory.
The analysis showed that opinions on risk were nuanced and individualised, ranging from total opposition to total support with many positions in between, rather than being sharply divided into pro- and anti-1080 blocs as is generally assumed. All participants, including those who asserted that their support for 1080 was derived from scientific evidence, drew on both quantitative information and subjective, contextual experience to explain their views. Moreover, perceptions about risk were strongly mediated by two other important factors: deep attachment to the natural environment, and issues of trust and distrust in the way pest control was managed by the local and national authorities of DoC and the AHB. Fundamentally conflicting philosophies about the way the natural environment should be managed appeared to be behind claims by both supporters and opponents that those who did not agree with them had hidden agendas, and were putting the region at risk. Health concerns were not only about physical health risk but more about overall wellbeing, especially in relation to water contamination. Only the Māori rūnanga and DoC had a positive view of their reciprocal relationship which had developed through a combined forum over the past decade.
Key recommendations include the need for changes to community engagement and increased transparency on the part of DoC and the AHB. Insights from this study may also apply to other parts of New Zealand where 1080 is hotly contested, as well as to situations where environmental and health risks are raised in opposition to developments such as wind farms or water resource management.