Peter Valentine | Conservation Officer
The many issues associated with the Second Generation Anticoagulant Rodenticides (SGARs) have been the focus of a BirdLife campaign for over a year now, and recent publicity about the failures of the Australian Pesticide and Veterinary Medicine Authority (APVMA) might help the campaign.
It was the APVMA that aligned itself with industry interests to enable the widespread sale of these deadly SGARs, and which steadfastly refused to take steps to avoid collateral deaths of many wildlife species and also of pets.
Any of our owls might be victims of this baiting, as the rodents affected by SGARs acquire a lethal dose from these much more toxic baits after a single feed. But the rodent does not die until a few days later and so is a deadly risk to owls for that period.
SGARs are considered highly dangerous to birds and mammals that consume the baited rodent: much more so than the First Generation Anticoagulant Rodenticides such as Warfarin.
The APVMA is the first line of defence against the rampant development of dangerous agricultural and domestic poisons that are now abundant within our society. This is the body charged with ensuring dangerous products are banned, or are regulated in a way that protects people and wildlife.
The APVMA was probably poorly known to most Australians until Barnaby Joyce moved its location from Canberra to his own electorate in Armidale, an action he took as Minister for Agriculture in a previous Liberal National Party (LNP) Government. That created many issues.
According to a recent review ordered by the current Minister for Agriculture, the shift resulted “in a loss of corporate knowledge, a loss of corporate culture and a loss of experience and knowledge of public sector values”, and this recent revelation led to the sudden resignation of the Chair of the Board and the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) in July this year.
An additional formal review is under way with the report due by the end of September 2023. Some of the concerns come from allegations of industry capture of this regulatory authority.
In the USA a partial solution is the banning of sale of all SGARs to anyone except a licenced pest exterminator: thus no sales to regular household consumers at hardware stores and the like. This is one of the requests made of the APVMA that it has failed to act upon, even for an interim period of review.
A second issue is very poor labelling in Australia, and no information requirement as part of the retail sales process. Unhappily today, hardware stores can sell any of these rodenticides to anyone who walks into the store with the money. This is despite the widespread research across the globe that shows the deadly impacts on wildlife and domestic animals. Obviously the producers of these dangerous products know what they are doing, and recently the manufacturer of Ratsak in Australia took the step of labelling a Warfarin-dosed Ratsak product as “first generation anticoagulant rodenticide”: perhaps a response to the growing awareness and publicity about the hazards of SGARs.
But the same label makes no attempt to describe what the difference might be. The hardware store chain, Bunnings, is under pressure over its irresponsible shelving and labelling practices, and its failure to provide any education about these matters to staff or customers.
The work of high school student, Poppy Mahon, in WA has raised the profile of Bunnings as a poor corporate citizen, and additional pressure is being applied by environmental lawyer Chris Pullen (KC) who has demonstrated Bunnings failures to separate SGARs, or to inform either staff or customers about the serious death risks associated with SGARs.
While of course these are matters that should be regulated by APVMA – that’s what they were established to do –there is also the matter of corporate ethics and responsibility. Bunnings has been pretending to care but failing to act.
What can we do?
One simple exercise would be for any of our members, who are willing to visit a local Bunnings store, simply investigate how they are acting on this issue.
Are the rodenticides on sale properly labelled with information about the risks to wildlife and pets?
Are the SGARs separated from others?
Have staff been trained? Asking a staff member about this might be informative. Given that Bunnings has claimed to be doing this, it should be an easy question to answer.
And of course there are many other hardware stores that sell these deadly products.
In the USA, in Canada, in the UK, sales of the SGARs would not be allowed as is practiced here in Australia. In the first instance this is another failure of the APVMA but equally, retail merchants do not have to avoid their civic and ethical responsibilities, and are free to act with appropriate diligence on the matter. Such action is very simple.
Anyone willing might take the following actions:
"Go into a Bunnings store near you and photograph the display if it shows FGARS (warfarin based products) mixed up with SGARS. If so find a Bunnings team member and ask:
(a) if they can explain the difference between the different products and whether one or other is safer for wildlife;
(b) if they have received any training from Bunnings about the differences;
(c) if there is warfarin based Ratsak with the note on the packet “First Generation Rodenticide” ask what that means and whether it is safer or less safe for wildlife than the other products.
If the employee can’t answer and says they have received no training then tell them you are a member of Birdlife Australia and briefly explain the danger of SGARs and that it is causing secondary poisoning of wildlife and pets; that Birdlife Australia has communicated with the CEO of Bunnings Mike Schneider who has said that staff members have been trained about the differences in the products. Then ask if they would agree to the CEO being informed that they had not been trained and willing to let you give their name to the CEO. If you strike an interested employee and explain the dangers of SGARS, they might agree to that and, actually agree to being photographed and give consent to the photo being sent to the CEO.
Make a note as contemporaneously as possible about what you were told. Even if they don’t consent to being photographed or their name being given, the result of the encounter would be relevant with the person’s name anonymised.” (Chris Pullen)
I would be happy to receive any reports and photos of the rodenticide shelves from our Branch members and collate them for use as part of the campaign. Feel free to email your report to me at email@example.com.
Of course it goes without saying that the Bunnings staff are not the problem, so please treat everyone with respect. When Chris Pullen made a visit to a Bunnings store in Perth, a staff member did agree to be photographed, and have his name sent to the CEO, with the information that no training had been provided by the store.
Some staff at Bunnings will be equally horrified at the damage being done to our wildlife (and domestic animals) as we might be. They can become allies and friends of wildlife. Many people love Owls!