Latest News from BPCA

01 March 2022

Pests vs Public health: Animal welfare paper review

Technical | PPC106

You may have read about the recent publication of Dr Sandra Baker’s paper on the assessment of common rat management methods and related welfare impacts. Regular PPC contributor Chris Cagienard, Managing Director of BPCA member Pest Solutions, reviews the paper.

pestsvpublichealthchriscagienard

SPEED VIEW: 

  • Pest professionals need to engage in ongoing academic research to fight the corner for public health
  • Six common pest control methods were graded on their welfare impact on a scale of less to more suffering and lower to higher impact
  • Anticoagulants/cholecalciferol/cellulose baiting scored the worst on welfare according to the study
  • The study is not perfect and there’s a need for more research
  • The question we need to ask is, “how can we have the best welfare impact possible”?

Pest control needs a seat at the table – professionals working on the frontline of pest control have been an absent voice in ongoing discussions and research that have a significant impact on our toolkit, and the legislation we all have to obey.

We are grateful for people like Dr Alan Buckle, who are dedicated to standing in the gap, protecting our toolkit and our ability to protect public health.

But this is a gap that we, the industry professionals, need to fill. We need to engage in the ongoing academic research that impacts us all.

As part of Dr Baker’s research presented in this paper, we were able to have a few professional pest controllers included in the stakeholder group.

Myself and fellow BPCA members, Dr Mike Ayers and Jane Fearn-Daglish, participated in the research work as co-authors in the published paper.

Methods assessed and outcomes of the study

The following common control methods were assessed for their welfare impacts as part of the study:

  • Snap traps
  • Cage traps and concussive killing
  • Glue traps and concussive killing
  • Anticoagulant poisoning
  • Cholecalciferol poisoning
  • Cellulose ingestion (not used in the UK).

Each method was assessed according to the model laid out on the paper. Each method was graded on its welfare impact on a scale of less to more suffering and lower to higher impact.

The centre line indicates a grade of better to worse welfare outcomes (see chart opposite).

In summary, the study reported that snap trapping scored the best on welfare, followed by cage trapping with a concussive blow to the head.

Glue boards (with a concussive blow to the head) and anticoagulants/cholecalciferol/cellulose baiting scored the worst on welfare according to the model used in the study.

Study limits

The study is not perfect, but it’s instrumental in framing the welfare impacts of control methods we deploy.

It’s easy to think that we should be allowed to carry on the excellent work we do in protecting public health without the ‘assaults’ on our toolkit.

This does sound reasonable, but it’s not realistic. Instead, we need to take responsibility for defending our methods and toolkit with facts and evidence.

I find it hard not to conclude that anticoagulants got a raw deal as part of this research due to how the assessment model worked. I remind the reader that the results of this study were obtained as part of a defined assessment model.

Therefore, they need to be understood as not a definitive conclusion but rather a helpful starting point for further research.

An example of this would be that if you were to assess proofing as a control method following the same scale, it could potentially score quite severely.

It’s easy to think that we should be allowed to carry on the excellent work we do in protecting public health without the ‘assaults’ on our toolkit.

Chris Cagienard, Pest Solutions

We know that proofing and prevention, in general, are the most proactive and humane methods of control we can enact.

But, what would the welfare impact of excluding a rat from a building that contains its food source, or trapping it in a cavity, be? It could be of significant consequence.

Proofing does not have a killing method but trapping a rodent in a cavity or excluding it from its food may result in its death. That unintended killing method may introduce significant suffering for a prolonged period. 

The same could be intimated for removing food sources, resulting in a similar effect.

Not only are proofing, hygiene and housekeeping recommendations among the best and most effective tools available to a pest controller, but they are effectively mandated by law by the Environmental Health department to protect public health.

The last suggestion may seem a little sensational at first. It’s hard to solely justify the scoring of the welfare impact of a control measure in isolation because almost all urban commensal rodents naturally experience these welfare impacts daily, just as part of living in close association with humans.

This is my justification for stating that I believe anticoagulant rodenticides receive a raw deal in the way they are scored in this study. This doesn’t mean I think the results of this study are without value, but they strongly point to the need for more research.

I think glue boards and snap traps scored fairly, but we must consider that the extended range for the welfare score for traps is because foul catches can happen.

A snap trap can be the most humane option for rodent control while also potentially being the most inhumane option if a foul catch occurs. 

I’m an advocate for a mandatory trap approval scheme, like the one proposed by Alex Wade, and for further training to ensure that professionals take time to consider trap deployment.

pestsvpublichealthchriscagienard graph

Protecting public health

While supporting the work that Dr Baker and other stakeholders achieved in this research, we need to ensure that we don’t evaluate the results in a vacuum. 

With the term ‘pest’ being challenged by some well-intentioned people, we must remember that we define a pest out of necessity and not wanton disregard for the animal or species in question.

We control pests because of the essential requirement to protect public health, save food production, and create safe environments.

There exists a balance where we must consider the welfare impacts of what we do against this essential need. This is the biggest takeaway from the paper for me.

Pest control has a welfare impact. It always will. But this should be considered in light of the implications for public health.

The alternative (is frightening) 

Some may use the outcomes of this paper to justify irresponsible removal or restrictions of the essential toolkit of a professional pest controller such as anticoagulants.

I urge those individuals to consider the catastrophic implications that this would undoubtedly have on public health in the UK and worldwide.

Pests still need to be controlled. If our toolkit is diminished, we’ll work to operate with the remaining tools we have as professionals.

But the associated costs of pest control will rise significantly, driving out those without the means to pay, and the untrained amateur will do whatever they deem fit behind the scenes.

I can only imagine how dark a place this would be for animal welfare.

Obviously, the lethal methods we deploy to control rats do not end with a good welfare outcome for the rodents in question. So the question we need to ask ourselves is, “how can we have the best welfare impact possible”?

Pest professionals take animal welfare seriously. In return, we must ask animal welfare advocates to take professional pest control seriously.

Time to join the conversation

Please take the time to read this paper and form your own opinion on the research.

If you have a strong opinion on the research, write to us and we might publish your reply in the next PPC.

We have the BPCA Academic Relations Working Group founded, in part, to respond to discussions coming from this paper.

How can we influence the research that is currently happening and ensure that our voice is heard? Get involved today.

hello@bpca.org.uk

MORE AT PESTEX'22

“Animal welfare impacts in Norway rat management”

17 March at 11:30 in the Technical Theatre.

Register now

Source: PPC106

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