Putting a Societal Safety Cap on Animal Poisons
As collateral damage to our war on rodent “pests,” hundreds of children and thousands of pets are exposed to rodenticides each year, with many suffering serious illness or death – to say nothing of the slow, painful deaths suffered by the intended victims. In addition to being used extensively in and around our homes and businesses, these poisons are placed on federal lands, in state parks, in privately owned wildlife corridors, and in so many other open space areas, in order to kill mice, rats, ground squirrels and other small mammals who are thought to weaken levees, to infest structures, or to have some other adverse impact.
On Friday, we were excited to learn that Reckitt Benckiser Inc., the manufacturer of d-Con brand mouse and rat poisons – and the sole holdout against U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requirements to make rat and mouse poisons safer— announced an agreement with the EPA to end the sale of some of its most toxic poisons. Under the agreement, d-Con can continue to sell the poisons – called second generation anticoagulant rodenticides, or SGARs – until the end of the year, although we urge retailers to remove these harmful products from their shelves immediately.
So many different wild animals are at risk from these poisons, including predatory birds and mammals who feed on so many rodents in order to survive. Of course, these natural predators are the best rodenticides around, and when we poison them incidentally by setting out these toxins for other species, we engage in a self-defeating exercise.
For many years now, The HSUS’s wildlife department had been working with the EPA and non-government organizations to push for ending the use of SGARs and other toxins that hurt animals. Among other victories, we have fought for and won restrictions from the EPA on the use of Avitrol bird poison, a nervous system toxicant that was also dangerous to mammals and other animals.
We are also working to end the use of the highly toxic predator poison, sodium cyanide, in M-44 devices, and Compound 1080 in livestock protection collars. Both are used to kill predators, mainly coyotes, around ranches and farms, by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services program. In addition to the thousands of animals intentionally killed each year by M-44s—more than 14,000 in one year —M-44s kill non-target animals, including pets and endangered species, and injure human beings. Wildlife Services reported that M-44s killed 337 non-target victims in one year including 27 domestic dogs, two gray wolves, and hundreds of other species. Compound 1080, which is placed in a collar worn by sheep and goats so that an attacking coyote ingests a lethal dose, causes vomiting and convulsions (among other painful and distressing symptoms) and death from cardiac failure or respiratory arrest.
The USDA also kills millions of birds with DRC-1339, a slow-acting poison used on blackbirds, starlings, pigeons, crows, ravens, magpies and gulls, to address various kinds of conflicts. This toxin kills by damaging the kidneys and heart so that poisoned birds die slowly, usually over a period of one to three days.
Some states are moving independently to restrict poisons. Through an HSUS-led ballot initiative 15 years ago, California banned the use of sodium cyanide and Compound 1080 by the federal government or any other party. And earlier this year, California announced a regulation to designate SGARs as restricted materials, effective July 1, 2014. This action will prevent the public from buying SGARs but allow exterminators and farmers to use them. A California Superior Court on May 12 denied the request from the maker of d-Con to delay implementation of the regulation so these products must be off California shelves after the end of this month.
Also in California, pending state legislation and City of Los Angeles action would keep all SGARs away from the most vulnerable potential victims of unintended rodenticide poisoning, by prohibiting the use of SGARs in all state and national parks, wildlife refuges and conservancies in the state, and by banning the use of SGARs in Los Angeles parks and environmentally sensitive areas. The HSUS’ Humane Lobby Day in California will feature a 90-minute workshop for all attendees with a panel of experts on SGARs to discuss science, history, case studies, and regulatory and outreach efforts. It’s not too late to sign up and join us in Sacramento on June 11th.
We must see an end to the era of widespread poisoning and usher in a new model of wildlife management that allows society to address conflicts, but not in a way that leaves a trail of victims up and down the length of the entire ecological food chain.