On October 13, 2015, a man in New Zealand was charged with blackmail after allegedly threatening to poison infant formula with Compound 1080 in an attempt to extort money from the dairy industry.
In November of 2014 the accused sent letters accompanied by packages of infant formula laced with the pesticide to Fonterra and the NZ Farmer's Federation. He warned that their formula would be laced with Compound 1080 (“1080" refers to the catalogue number of the poison) also known as sodium fluoroacetate
(link to wikipedia), unless New Zealand stopped environmental use of the poison by the end of March 2015. Compound 1080 has been criticized by some, who claim that it indiscriminately kills wildlife and contaminates the environment. But the court documents allege that the man’s motivation was financial gain
(link to news story).
A Toxic Pesticide
Compound 1080 is a strong metabolic poison commonly used as rodenticide and predacide. Compound 1080 is cheap and simple to synthesize, tasteless, and has a high solubility in water. Due to the high level of toxicity when ingested, with no known antidotes, Compound 1080 has been banned or restricted in many countries. In the United States its use is limited to livestock protection collars specific to coyotes. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
(link to EPA website) has placed sodium fluoroacetate in Toxicity Category I, indicating the highest degree for acute oral toxicity. Compound 1080 is mostly used in New Zealand to control many vertebrate pests and as a conservation tool to control certain invasive species, such as possums, that have no natural predators.
I first came to learn this information during the mid-year AOAC meeting in March 2015. There was an immediate concern from the AOAC’s Stakeholder Panel on Infant Formula and Adult Nutritionals (SPIFAN)
(link to AOAC page) committee for the call and review of methods for the analytical testing of Compound 1080. The representatives from the infant formula manufacturers had assembled in this meeting to discuss the threat and look for the best methods for its analysis. During the meeting, the Standard Method Protocol Review document was created. This document is now referred to as AOAC SMPR 2015.001, Determination of Sodium Fluoroacetate (“Compound 1080”) in Infant Formula
(link to document).
Detection via Liquid Chromatography and Mass Spectrometry
Three methods were determined by the expert review panel to acceptably meet the standard and were adopted as AOAC First Action Official MethodsSM
(link to press release). All three methods use liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry (LC-MS/MS)
(link to product page) for determination of sodium fluoroacetate in infant formula. Methods should be suitable for high-throughput analysis.
As the AOAC press release has stated, these methods, as approved, are available for use by laboratories.
The methods will subsequently undergo further studies to demonstrate full compliance with the standard.
The New Zealand dairy industry has been heavily impacted by this threat and suffered financial losses, so it is good to see an arrest in this case. Hopefully some strict actions will be taken to prevent individuals from making a threat like this again. On a more positive note, we now have some methods approved by the AOAC that can be used for the analysis on Compound 1080. We have a range of innovative LC-MS/MS products that are ideal for the analysis of Compound 1080. Please visit our webpage for more product information. Has your lab encountered Compound 1080? I’d like to hear about your experience.