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Panel Debate: Promoting Professional Pest Management to Ensure Healthy Cities in the Age of Climate Change

During the launch of the Memorandum of Understanding at the EU Committee of the Regions on 1 October 2019, a panel of experts discussed some of the key questions related to promotion of pest management in the age of climate change and urbanisation, put to the panel by members of the audience. Climate change is significantly increasing the occurrence of plagues and other infestations, with urban areas particularly impacted, meaning that there is a growing need for truly professional pest management operators following sound and sustainable practices.

 

The panel included Ilaria Di Silvestre, Campaign Manager, Eurogroup for Animals; Dr Martin Geier, Director, Biogents; Gianluca Nurran, Scientific & Technical Advisor, Coceral; and, Henry Mott, President, CEPA.

 

QUESTION: Is it acceptable that there are unqualified operators at work in Europe when we are talking about the safety and welfare of people, wildlife and the environment? Does the panel agree that we need greater professionalization of pest management in Europe? Or is the status quo OK?

In many countries it is still possible for virtually anyone to set up a pest management business and start to offer services to the market without screening of their knowledge or abilities because there are no specific regulatory requirements in place.

Nurran: the cereal industry trades and stores a lot of grain all around Europe and relies on professional pest managers as it needs fumigation for insect control in particular. It is vital to have professionals on the case to ensure that active ingredients do not escape during the fumigation process and that unacceptable levels of residues in the grain are avoided. But even if the sector works with long-established professional operators there is always a risk that sometimes they may not be as professional as everyone would like.

Mott: it is not acceptable that untrained professionals are operating. Fumigation is inherently dangerous as a procedure and is closely controlled everywhere and you must be appropriately qualified to be allowed to do that. Yet such rigour is not required in other areas. We need to have the same careful approach across all areas of pest control. The key question is how users can tell who the good operators are. This needs to be addressed.

Geier: from the perspective of manufacturers of pest control products, it is important that these products are used in the best way to get the best results and obtain best customer satisfaction. The US has a long experience of mosquito control and in Europe trained professionals are thin on the ground. Education and training is key and we can, learn from other parts of the world in this regard. The training will come with the problem when the impacts start to be felt.

Di Silvestre: from the point of view of vertebrate animals and wildlife, it is essential that experts are involved and decisions taken on the basis of evidence. Management of implementation must take account of the fact that these are sentient beings and cruelty is not acceptable.

It is vital to look at situations and not generalise around negative “labels” like the term “pest”. Specific animals should not be generically labelled as “pests”, when it is only in certain contexts and situations that then can become problematic. In other contexts they are just wildlife that present no hazard or threat to humans. More science and evidence-based action is needed.

In Italy, for example, coypu rats have been classed as pests recently and anyone is allowed to kill them. In practice, this often happens in a bad way, imposing needless suffering on the animals. This is why this activity should be handled only by trained professionals with ongoing monitoring of how this is actually carried out.

A better characterisation of the industry’s activity might be as “managers of human-wildlife conflicts”. Such positioning would have the advantage of allowing the industry to expand its areas of expertise, including to cover management of invasive species, which is generally handled badly.

Mott: fully agree that untrained professionals are a particular problem when dealing with animals. That said, it is not the role of the industry, as such, to decide what is to be identified as a pest and what not and it is probably not ideally qualified to do so either. On the other hand, trained pest managers will frequently explain to their customers that what they are facing is not really a serious threat and explain how to manage the problem. A common example is bees. Often if left alone they pose no real problem.

 

QUESTION: Does the panel think that governments and policy-makers are sufficiently aware that climate change, urbanisation and globalisation is resulting in more plagues and infestations, especially in cities – including from non-native species? Do governments realise that this presents a real threat to public health and the well-being of people all across Europe? If the awareness is low, how can we educate them?

Climate change is increasing temperatures and improving breeding conditions for various species. Cities are growing. There is more transport of goods and people from one side of the world to the other, with non-native pests travelling too. How well is all this understood?

Geier: hopefully, people in government read the newspapers and are surely aware that there are more and more invasive species appearing and that plagues are increasing in frequency. It is a common news story in the media today. But it is not resulting in government measures. There appear to be other priorities that supersede these developments that command the cash. So action gets postponed.

Nurran: public health is more important than food safety. Infestation can have huge impact on the economic fortunes of the grain business but it can also have a big negative impact on the food supply chain. There is a scientific and regulatory framework but it is hard to transmit this to the citizen is a key challenge.

Di Silvestre: the evidence is there and decision-makers are aware. The problem is that the answer from the public authorities is either absent or insufficient. For example, there are EU rules to prevent the introduction of new invasive animal species – at least that was the intent of the regulation. But the list of species covered is short today and expanding it is very onerous. As a result, extending the list only seems to add those species that are already here and a widespread problem.

A stricter approach to allowing exotic pets should be put in place as this is how invasive species appear. We do this for products but not for pets. This approach would help

Mott: politicians all want votes – that is what they exist for. The evidence is mounting around the pest problem. So the question is whether the arguments around economic impacts, public health, food supply and food safety and invasive species are seen by politicians as vote winners versus the promotion of the broader “green agenda” which would classify pest control as “unnecessary” or “dispensable”. Today we probably don’t win that call.

The raison d’être of CEPA has to be in large part to explain these needs better to the political decision-makers so that they make the linkages and do the right thing. We need to do a better job to raise our profile.

Di Silvestre: a key focus of the industry in raising its profile should be on prevention first. CEPA is on the right track in promoting the integrated approach in the memorandum of understanding. But we need more legislation at EU level on this topic to have a harmonized approach across the EU that focuses on prevention rather than cure.

 

QUESTION: How does the panel think we can get buy-in to the Memorandum of Understanding between providers and users of pest management services, so that the CEPA Certified scheme becomes a true badge of quality?

CEPA and its member companies are making a commitment to operate according to the principles and approaches of Integrated Pest Management, which means using a thorough and careful process to ensure prevention first and only resorting to destruction as a last option. CEPA is proposing that users of pest management services should only choose to engage certified professional pest managers.

Nurran: third party certification is key and that should be simple and effective and easy to implement. This sends a clear message to the whole chain, notably the food chain.

Even if use of chemicals is unavoidable in some contexts, public opinion is that pest management is all about chemical use and that this is dangerous for public health, which is, of course, true in some cases. But use of chemicals is not such a risk if executed in the right way by trained professionals according to certified schemes.

Mott: third party certification is exactly what CEPA Certified is all about and is clearly the right way to go as opposed to self-certification.

Di Silvestre: a good step forward for the sector will be to consider the ethical aspects of wildlife management more effectively. This is not yet covered in the Memorandum of Understanding, yet users are more and more looking for this aspect. Products and techniques used need to take account of the welfare of the animals. There is interesting scientific work in this field regarding ethical control of wildlife that establishes seven principles to be taken into consideration:

  • Modify human practices
  • Justify with evidence that a control action is necessary
  • Ensure objectives that are clear and achievable
  • Prioritise animal welfare
  • Maintain social acceptability
  • Conduct systematic planning of the management of the control procedures
  • Make decisions based on specifics not on generic categorisations of species as “pests”

In fact, there is a lot of crossover between these principles and the principles in the Memorandum of Understanding but more could be done to move further in addressing the welfare of animals.

Another area worth pursuing is the emerging field of non-lethal methods for controlling population growth such as immuno-contraception. Obviously this requires expert intervention and may present an opportunity for professionally trained pest managers, even if much more research is still needed.

Mott: animal welfare is always top-of-mind for professional pest managers when it comes to vertebrates. If this is not clear enough in the Memorandum of Understanding then this will be addressed because it is very much part of the professional industry’s operational approach. There seems to be less public concern around invertebrate control but use of products to control invertebrates can, of course, negatively impact vertebrates if poorly executed. So there is an all-round need for the right professional approach.

Geier: the example of mosquito control has a lot to do with tourism. Need to market the certification more effectively to the end-users in the tourism industry, so they can demonstrate to their customers that they do the right case. But there is often reluctance to admit that there is a problem even when it is managed very effectively and professionally. Their ability to be more open about this may be better put in the context less of pest control and more of disease prevention, especially as the public is more aware of the risk of new health impacts that are new in the European context. It is a communications challenge.

Mott: a big problem for the industry is that pest management by end-users is something the latter typically wants hidden away – people don’t want pest managers seen on their premises because the public perception may be that they potentially have a pest problem or already do have a problem. We portray ourselves the wrong way. Prevention is better than cure but it is hard to achieve that when users don’t want pest managers on their premises even when it is for prevention.

Nurran: the Memorandum of Understanding is clear in its objectives. But key messages to “sell” it should be simple and straight to the point about the main benefits for users, focusing on protecting the environment, public health and food supply chains.

Geier: Prevention is complex but we need to communicate this in a simple, positive way. “Pest” is not a positive word, however. How to convince customers to pay even if they have no problem? A key element is to get understanding that this is an ongoing concern.

Observation from the floor: Where legislation or fear of the spread of disease exist, it is easier to get buy-in from users. The challenge is to get that understanding among users in the vast majority of situations where neither of these scenarios apply.

Mott: One solution might be to promote the inclusion of adequate pest management procedures as part of the existing food hygiene rating schemes for hotels and restaurants. This can be a new project for CEPA to pursue.

Observation from the floor: In the US and other regions of the world, the pest manager is proud of what he does and is not perceived as being a spreader of toxic chemicals. Only in Europe do we have this hang-up. Pest managers in Europe should be prouder of what they do.

Di Silvestre: In Australia, there is a big effort to demonstrate animal welfare concerns. In Europe, the industry  should do more in this direction. Better use of data should be used to make the case for the need for prevention and that prevention is a sign of effectiveness not a flaw.

Mott: we often let ourselves down in Europe as an industry by the way we present ourselves. If we don’t look professional in the way we dress, in the way we carry ourselves, in the vehicles we drive to our customers’ premises, in the paper-work we use… then how can we expect the world to perceive us as “professional”.

As for communication with citizens, we have to be much more careful in the future about the sort of language we use. We should listen to the younger generations who are, perhaps, more in tune with the potential of their actions and of our actions to damage the environment. We need to align with those concerns.

Observation from the floor: Protecting brands and safeguarding businesses is a big added-value we bring to many of the users we serve, along with environmental protection and safeguarding public health. The time is right for that approach.

 

QUESTION: What can the European pest management sector do to raise its profile? How do we explain to policy-makers and the general public that good pest managers make an indispensable contribution to people’s well-being by keeping pests under control?

The pest management sector is “known” and “not known” at the same time in Europe. There is a veil of mystery over the sector that might best be lifted.

Geier: use of data is something that we should use more effectively. We need to visualise the problem through data.

Nurran: social media is clearly an approach that must be factored into communications for all. The cereals association Coceral has found it very useful to meet members of the European Parliament for one on one meetings.

Observation from the floor: Marshal the data, master the data and use it to explain why the industry is needed and to underpin the prevention goal. The industry has a lot of data that it can share with the authorities to build credibility in the process.

Di Silvestre: another route would be to invest more in alternative methods such as reduced fertility approaches.

In concluding, Henry Mott, reminded everyone that the Memorandum of Understanding is only a piece of paper. Now it is down to the companies and the associations that are members of CEPA to turn this into a real live programme that promotes real change, starting by making sure that our technicians in the field see this text and feel proud about what they do. This is a call to action, it is the start not the end of this important process.

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