Monday, October 12, 2009

Poisoning at the Cinematheque

Poisoning Paradise was screened at the Cinematheque last Wednesday - a documentary about the use of 1080 poison to control mammal pests such as possums in New Zealand's Clean Green 100% Pure landscapes. The documentary showed that as well as killing pests, it also kills a large proportion of some species of native birds, invertebrates and other animals, as well as posing health risks for people and risking contamination of meat products destined for export.

Milos (Croatia) said he was stunned by a government that is so shortsighted and suffering from 'induced hysteria' over the need for such extreme pest control measures. Others wondered out loud whether an entertaining style like Michael Moore's would be a better way of reaching a wide audience. And one student asked whether we could do anything to prevent the Alabama factory from exporting 85% of the poison to New Zealand.

The conversation was stimulating and it continued in front of a class of students on Friday morning. I guess it's refreshing because I've lived in New Zealand for so long and have heard the propaganda from the Department of Conservation for so long, that I haven't stepped back and seen what the policies look like from the outside.

The lecturer Natasa took the doco home for another look, fascinated by what she felt was indisputably persuasive content but in a form that felt like 'an angry shout' - a bit like the haka that features at the end. Later she said that it seems to her that the Department of Conservation has taken on the role of predator and feels the need to take complete control over the animal it has turned into some sort of evil demon. She printed out DoC's arguments for doing aerial 1080 poison drops, and was surprised to find that many of their arguments are circular in nature.

Their statements say things like the ERMA (Environmental Risk Management Authority) review said '1080 poison is safe to use, so we're going to use it' (even though the ERMA process has been seriously questioned, and ERMA receives funding from DoC). Spokespeople from DoC also say that if we don't use 1080, we will lose our endangered birds, including the 'kiwi', even though the kiwi is less endangered than others. This argument pushes all New Zealanders' fear buttons, because the kiwi is our identity, our icon, and so much of our history connects with it.

This hysteria seems misplaced. Research shows that our endangered birds are more likely to be killed by 1080 the way it is currently being applied, than they are by pests like possums.

For those who want to read more about the background to this documentary, look at the Poisoning Paradise information on The Graf Boys' blog and The Graf Boys' website.

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