Sector

23 August 2021

Opinion: There's nothing evil about me

OPINION | PPC104 AUGUST 2021

‘Humane’ – a word we often hear these days. But what does it mean, and how does this relate to pest management? Regular columnist Alex Wade of member company Wade Environmental investigates.

Is there such a thing as humane pest management Alex Wade BPCA

SPEED VIEW:

  • To be humane is to show compassion and benevolence when faced with a situation
  • Pest management does do the greatest good for the greatest number
  • Humans can conceptualise our death without it being an immediate reality - rodents can’t
  • Few wild animals ever really reach an age where they will ever succumb to old age
  • A glue board used correctly should be nothing more than a tool used to restrain an animal.

To start, we must understand that to be humane is to show compassion and benevolence when faced with a situation, which places us in pest management in a quandary.

How can we be compassionate and benevolent while undertaking a pest management strategy that we know will result in the death of pest animals?

Is this paradox of ethical thinking?

Let’s get philosophical

Ultimately to talk about humaneness is to talk about ethics and, by extension, philosophy. There are two philosophers I know of who might be worth considering: Jeremy Bentham and Peter Singer.

Jeremy Bentham expounded the concept of utilitarianism which, when boiled down to its very basics, claimed that an action that resulted in the greatest good for the greatest number of people was the right decision to make.

Does this therefore erase the negative connotations and actions of pest management? Consider this phrase we have all heard parroted at us: “I don’t mind pest control; it is just a necessary evil”.

Although I understand that there is (usually) not an intentionally negative connotation within this remark, it does show there is an inherent and underlying bias towards this industry, a necessary evil.

Consider this phrase we have all heard parroted at us: “I don’t mind pest control; it is just a necessary evil”.

Alex Wade, Wade Environmental

While it does very much justify the position of Jeremy Bentham and his utilitarianism views, it does not quite do enough to take the sting from the sentiment.

Pest management does do the greatest good for the greatest number, and so is undoubtedly necessary, but it’s by no means ‘evil’.

A hierarchy of sentience

Peter Singer wrote a treatise on the Moral Status of Animals. In synopsis, this paper claimed a moral hierarchy when it came to every animal on the planet.

This hierarchy broke all life down into three groups:

  • Sentient animals that are self-aware (such as adult humans)
  • Sentient animals that are not self-aware (such as rats)
  • Inanimate objects/insentient organisms (like the grain that is soon to be devoured inside your equally insensate bait box).

The distinction between these groups essentially boils down to the ability for each animal group to perceive itself and consequently an end to existence, so therefore having the innate compulsion to preserve their own lives (beyond the visceral fight or flight mechanism).

Death and pest control

And so, finally, we get to what this entire dilemma pivots on. It is that final curtain call, the big hurrah, the going belly up or simply put… it’s about death.

How do we then gauge what is ‘humane’ in the tools that we use?

Let’s take a cursory look at the lethal control methods we have at our disposal. The physical harm done by traps. The chemical damage done with rodenticides.

Imagining these fates might be enough to have each of us curling into a small ball and whimpering softly. But is that not the case for any way we envisage our demise?

This brings us back to Peter Singer and the fact that we as humans actually can conceptualise our death without it being an immediate reality.

However, rodents are seemingly incapable of this. They’re unlikely to suffer any anxiety as a result of all but the most immediate of concerns.

In the wild, the simple and rather bleak reality is that death in the natural world ranges from the short and terrifying to the protracted and decidedly unpleasant.

Alex Wade, Wade Environmental

To give this some context, if you were to ask me how I would like to die, I would tell you, “Just like my Grandfather, quietly and peacefully in my sleep… not at all like the passengers on the bus he was driving.”

Joking aside, the statement does prove this concept. “In my sleep”. ”Quietly”. ”Peacefully”. All reasonable requests, right?

But we as humans are almost unique in that this is a luxury afforded to us. This is not a consideration for wild animals and certainly never for rodents.

In the wild, the simple and rather bleak reality is that death in the natural world ranges from the short and terrifying to the protracted and decidedly unpleasant.

In truth, few wild animals ever really reach an age where they will ever succumb to old age. If they do not become food for a larger animal, most animals will suffer the ignominy of a slow death at the hands of starvation.

This will either be due to overwhelming parasite loads or from a lack of resources due to seasonal changes, ie freezing to death in a wet ditch while attempting to forage.

Pigeon ethics

This might feel like an ad hominem justification for using chemicals (they’re okay because freezing to death in a ditch is worse).

Let’s keep perspective of the mode of action of the most common rodenticides. With modern rodenticides, there is almost always a lag period between consumption and the onset of symptoms.

Within this time, the animal is entirely unaware of anything awry, continuing about its life as it would normally.

It is only when a critical threshold is reached, the lack of vitamin K, the saturation of vitamin D, that symptoms begin to present themselves.

Indeed, if you’ve ever come across a dopey rat, you’ll know that these animals don’t look to be in the throes of terrible pain.

Alex Wade, Wade Environmental

From there, the time between those symptoms and death is usually a matter of hours if not, in most cases, minutes.

Indeed, if you’ve ever come across a dopey rat, you’ll know that these animals don’t look to be in the throes of terrible pain.

Indeed, they do not exhibit anywhere near the terror that one would imagine being eviscerated by an owl would engender.

Nor do they persist in the protracted suffering that starvation would bring about (although really, it would be the height of arrogance to assume we understood the mental landscape of another animal, let alone another species).

A humane attitude to pest management

Maybe the question shouldn’t be, “Is pest management or its tools humane?”. Instead, we should ask, “How can we ensure that our actions and attitudes never allow the use of these tools to become inhumane?”

Take, for example, the use of glue boards and other traps. In themselves they are simply tools, but it is their use (or rather misuse) that has the potential to make them become inhumane.

A glue board used correctly should be nothing more than a tool used to restrain an animal, allowing the professional to administer a swift and low-risk dispatch.

Conversely, the break back trap, a tool considered a safe and reliable mechanism, when placed incorrectly or manufactured poorly, can mangle and maim indiscriminately.

When these tools are misused, remember that it’s not just a fault of the tool but also the user.

Therefore, it’s now more than ever of paramount importance that this industry learns from this latest news and looks to do two things:

  1. Create a clear distinction between the professionalism and diligence of the people who are committed to upholding the standards of this industry from the untrained, who would then misuse or abuse these (or any) products
  2. Ensure that the tools we champion are of a standard that ensures the best possible outcomes are achieved without the risk or fear of failure due to substandard materials or design.
How humane is your pest management?

Do you agree with Alex’s ideas around the humaneness of pest management?

Do you talk about the ‘necessary evil’ of pest control with your non-pestie friends and family?

Share your point of view, and we might print it here.

hello@bpca.org.uk

Source: PPC104

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