Vermin control and even some British council’s are asking the UK’s Health and Safety Executive for permission to use stronger poisons to combat what they describe as a growing number of “super rat” infestations. The plans, however, have previously been slowed over concerns about the impact of the poisons on local wildlife, a fact the media seems to have almost entirely decided to gloss over.
The brown rat infestations have been dubbed a plague of “super mutant rats” due to the rats’ resistance to traditional poisons. A sharp rise in the number of rat infestations has been seen in the Berkshire, Hampshire, Oxford and Henley-on-Thames regions where recent bad weather is said to have exacerbated the problem of rats emerging from their now flooded habitats and taking refuge in people’s homes.
As a result, local councils and pest control officers are renewing calls for the ability to use poisons like brodifacoum outdoors to combat the problem.
Graham Chappell, contracted by West Berkshire Council, is quoted as saying, “It’s becoming more of an issue now simply because of the number of rats that are being seen. They’ve also mutated genetically and are bred to be immune to standard poisons.”
He believes that use of poisons like brodifacoum would better equip vermin control to deal with the problem. While brodifacoum has been used in the US and parts of Europe for more than a decade where rats have developed immunity to other poisons, its use is currently restricted in the UK and previous applications for use were withdrawn when the Health and Safety Executive asked for more information surrounding the possible secondary and tertiary impact on wildlife. A consultation on that matter is also ongoing.
As you can imagine though, the press is having a jolly time of reporting how this new strain of so-called super rat needs to be stopped, shaping the discussion as one solely about vermin control battling the rat-initiated apocalypse.
A couple found their 16-month-old daughter screaming in bed and covered in blood after being bitten by a rat at their home in Camden, north London, last month.
Separately, an 80-year-old woman died in hospital in Reading last year just a few weeks after she was apparently bitten by rats while she was bedbound following a stroke.
Rats carry diseases such as Weil’s disease, which can be passed on to humans. It has flu-like symptoms initially but can lead to jaundice in the kidneys.
The disease killed Andy Holmes, the Olympic rowing champion, in 2010.
The Telegraph refers to this as a “spate of attacks” but demurs on providing even a rough figure on rat-caused injuries or per-year fatalities.
Indeed, few in the media have bothered to touch on the argument–whether it has merit or not–that not only has poison as a whole seemed ineffective due to the rising immunity of the rat population, but also that there is reason to be concerned that use of brodifacoum in an outdoor setting could impact local wildlife and even pose a mild risk to children.
However, there are a few publications that have decided to give voice to those not ready to jump on the brodifacoum bandwagon just yet.
But Jeff Knott, of the RSPB, opposes suggestions to use stronger poison. He said: “The risk to wildlife by the use of rodenticides is very real, particularly to animals which eat rats such as birds of prey and barn owls.
“Rat control is necessary but the RSPB does not believe that the answer is the licensing of more and more toxic poisons.
“The more poisons we use, the more resistant rats will become to them. The answer is firstly prevention and then other control methods such as trapping and shooting.”
A number of studies that have attempted to examine the secondary and tertiary impact of brodifacoum use, and there is evidence to suggest that brodifacoum does persist in the food chain, though it would appear such problems can be managed through use in controlled, short bursts.
Still there are a number of wildlife shelters that would attest to hawks and raptors suffering brodifacoum poisoning and that even in the most carefully managed areas, the risks should not be underestimated.
Indeed, the USA has taken steps to mitigate risks of children being exposed to brodifacoum, though it should be noted ingestion is rarely fatal. There have also been concerns over accidental discharge of brodifacoum into marine habitats and concrete statements made about the “significant” risk posed to non-target wildlife by many rodenticides.
This is not necessarily about building a case against using brodifacoum in all circumstances, as an argument could be made that there are times when careful and controlled use might be necessary, but rather to point out that there are a number of factors that, in the rush for a sensational headline, the media has either glossed over or completely ignored, much to the detriment of robust and informed debate about animal welfare and habitat management.
Image credit: Thinkstock.
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