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Taking an integrated approach to pest control

27 March 2023

Paul Westgate discusses some of the current threats facing those tasked with pest management and reviews the importance of adopting an integrated pest management (IPM) approach.

This graph shows Indian meal moth (Plodia interpunctella) captures at a food processing plant (2008 – 2022). An internal machinery cleaning and a more robust IPM strategy was implemented in Nov 2016.
This graph shows Indian meal moth (Plodia interpunctella) captures at a food processing plant (2008 – 2022). An internal machinery cleaning and a more robust IPM strategy was implemented in Nov 2016.

Successful pest managers utilise a a wide range of ‘tools’ in a combined manner to achieve results. Many of the tools are physical – traps, baits, and proofing materials – whilst others are principles such as training, process reviews and monitoring. Many are proactive, aiming to prevent or reduce activity, others are reactive, but in all cases, it is down to the skill of the pest manager to select the tools in their correct proportions for each individual scenario. The more tools that are available, the greater is the opportunity to effectively manage pests.

Currently, most of the physical tools in the pest controller’s toolbox are coming under threat. Glue boards, for example, are particularly beneficial where behavioural avoidance of baits and traps is present within rodent populations, an increasingly common occurrence across Britain. 

In April 2022 a new Act of parliament was passed, The Glue Traps (Offences) Act (2022). This Act was bought about due to the rightful concerns regarding the animal welfare issues associated with glue boards. 

The proposed bill requested a total ban on glue board use, but was unsuccessful, largely due to the lobbying efforts the team at the British Pest Control Association (BPCA) who influenced policy makers to understand the need for their continued availability to professionals to help protect public health. The request from the BPCA was that a licence be introduced to permit glue board use for competent individuals which was implemented.

The licensing scheme is being developed by the government and industry stake holders and is likely to be in place by early 2024. At present there are no legal changes in the use of glue boards, until the licence system comes in, plenty of time to ensure that all users of glue boards review their usage and prepare for the changes.

Traps have always been an important element to many pest management plans and have seen a resurgence within the pest management industry in recent years, largely due to pressures on the use of rodenticides.

When used for larger pest mammal species, traps require approval through the Spring Traps Approval Order which ensures they are efficient and humane. The requirements of this approval process is currently being challenged to improve the testing protocols of traps and whilst welcomed is likely to place further burdens on pest managers and manufacturers.

Traps for rats and mice fall outside of the requirement of the Spring Traps Approval Order by virtue of the Small Ground Vermin Traps Order (1958) and currently no regulation is in place for trap manufacturers. This position is being challenged, to bring mouse and rat traps under trap testing protocols before being sold, this will undoubtingly lead to further restrictions on the tools which are available to pest controllers.

Pesticide approvals
Pesticides are perhaps the most at risk tools in the toolbox. All pesticides need to be approved and since Brexit this process has become more costly and time consuming as multiple registrations for different areas of Europe are now required. In some cases, this has led to products being withdrawn as the costs to gain approval outweigh the benefits. Many of the products being lost form the toolbox are niche products, useful tools for resistance management strategies, reducing the range of pesticides available, increasing the likelihood of resistance developing.

In addition to the regulatory challenges upon pesticides the pests themselves are doing their best to help reduce which pesticides are available to pest controllers. Physiological and behavioural resistance to pesticides is now commonplace in many of the key urban pest species.

An integrated approach
The loss or reshaping of many of the pest controllers tools is a concern and will undoubtedly cause further challenges to pest mangers, but these changes should also help refocus on the bigger picture of pest management, the need for an integrated pest management (IPM) approach.

Within food processing it is always necessary to implement the principals of IPM and increase the efforts placed on excluding pests from buildings, reducing the ability for pests to breed by removing food and harbourage sites, encouraging the education of staff to be pest aware and maintaining effective monitoring schemes. Maybe the loss of physical products will help highlight the most effective element in the fight against pests, people, and the development of strong partnerships between pest controllers and on-site pest managers, something Veritas Pest Consultancy strongly advocates and helps to develop.

IPM has been proven to work in the real world. For example, one food processing site was able to reduce its flour beetles (Tribolium sp.) population by 30% without any pesticide application. This was achieved through education and engagement of pest control and site staff, the use of extensive data capture systems to pinpoint areas in need of improvement and importantly to see where success was achieved. Historically no beetle capture data was held, no one knew what was happening with beetle numbers, without the data successes could not be seen and efforts could not be visualised. Data of course needs to be viewed careful and should not be the sole decision maker but, in this scenario, it was crucial in the success of beetle reduction.

In another example, a food manufacturing facility which had relied on a chemical only approach for many years to control rats was able to gain effective control almost overnight having conducted a review of its IPM approach. 

The rats at the site were tested and found to be resistance to the rodenticide being used, the waste management system was also found to need improvement. Once the rodenticide was changed, hygiene, proofing and process improvements implemented, the level of observed rat activity fell from daily sightings to rare, quarterly sightings along with a significant reduction in rodenticide usage.

In my final example, a more robust, structured internal machinery cleaning schedule for processing equipment was implemented in Nov 2016. At this site Indian meal moth (Plodia interpunctella) had been recorded in high numbers (Fig 2.) 

In the years before the cleaning schedule was introduced the average number of moths caught per year was 5184, this had fallen by 87% to 670 moths per year after. Long term control bought about by process change with minimal pesticide application and a monitoring system which enables, fast, accurate corrective actions to be implemented where needed.

All those tasked with the management of pests have a role to play in safeguarding the toolbox available to pest controllers, by using the tools available in a considered and responsible way and always as part of an IPM plan, which is how long-term success is most often achieved.

Paul Westgate is Managing Director of Veritas Pest Consultancy. 

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