|Pets and Pesticides|
Dave Goulson, a trustee of PAN-UK and well known bumblebee biologist, tells us about the potential issue of the pesticides we put on our pets getting into the environemnt and poisoning bees, earthworms and other essential organisms in our ecological communities.
Every summer we have a family holiday in France, and every year we have to solve the problem of finding someone to look after our loveable mongrel dog, Poppy. Last year we opted for an eccentric lady who takes dogs into her own home when their owners are away; her place is full of animals, and rather whiffy, but we figured that Poppy would much prefer it to kennels, and we were correct. The only problem was that she came back with fleas, which prompted my wife to pop her in to the vets. They sold her some Advocate flea treatment, recommending a monthly prophylactic dose year in, year out. As someone with a professional interest in pesticides I looked at the small print on the packet to see what was in it, and was horrified to see that it is was a neonicotinoid insecticide, imidacloprid.
Veterinary practice managers often ask their vets to try to encourage any dog or cat owner who comes in to the surgery to buy a prophylactic flea treatment. Suppose they succeeded. Let’s do a quick back-of-an-envelope calculation. There are about 8.5 million dogs and 7.4 million cats in the UK. If all received the recommended dose that amounts to a staggering 32,604 kg of imidacloprid every year, more than is used in arable farming. It is enough to give a lethal dose to 8 x 1015 honeybees. To continue my spurious calculations, that is roughly enough to give 1000 times the lethal dose to every honeybee on Earth (and remember, this is just UK use of Advocate). Of course, this is all a bit silly. Not every dog or cat is treated by any means, and very little of that treatment is likely to end up anywhere near a bee, but it is very likely to end up coming into contact with earthworms, pondlife, dung beetles, flies and so on.
Many vets have heard of the bee crisis, have heard of neonicotinoids and the EU moratorium, and yet have no idea that Advocate contains a neonicotinoid. Most beekeepers and conservations are also unaware. This seems to me to be a story that needs to be told, and something that urgently needs scientific study. Where does all that neurotoxin go, and what does it harm?
Footnote: The most common alternative to Advocate is Frontline, which contains the active ingredient fipronil. This is not a neonicotinoid, but has many of the same properties and is probably no less dangerous to the environment.