LONDON–A secret shopper investigation by animal protection organisation Humane Society International/UK has found that some of Britain’s biggest DIY stores and home and garden centres, including B&Q, Homebase, Wilko, Wickes and The Range, are promoting inhumane and dangerous poison ‘pest control’ products to customers dealing with mice and rats, rather than prioritising effective non-lethal deterrents. HSI/UK’s researcher found that staff in 27 out of the 30 stores visited advised the use of lethal poisons, predominantly anticoagulant rodenticides which the Health and Safety Executive describes as ‘markedly inhumane’, as well as posing a health and safety risks to humans, pets and other wildlife. Some staff also provided misleading information on the extent to which the animals would suffer, such as ‘it just goes to sleep, probably’.
Stores selling the highest proportion of poisons in their ‘pest control’ ranges were Wickes (83% of mouse control products) and Dobbies (68% of rat control products). Such heavy emphasis on the sale of inhumane poisons conflicts with public opinion; a new YouGov poll, commissioned by HSI/UK, reveals that when asked to choose from a list of Do-It-Yourself products to control rats and mice in their home or garden, the British public’s top choice were no-kill deterrent and repellent products (43%), followed by non-lethal exclusion products to prevent animals from entering their property (38%). By contrast only a quarter (25%) stated that their preferred choice would be a poison.”
Several stores have responded positively to the report, with retailers like Wickes deciding to introduce humane options into their pest control product range and Notcutts retraining their staff to advise customers on safe and humane methods of managing rodent problems. Dobbies told HSI/UK that it had already decided to remove all lethal or inhumane products from sale, prior to receiving the report.
According to the Health and Safety Executive’s UK Authorised Rodenticide Product Database, anticoagulant poisons make up 93% of all rodenticide products authorised in the UK for sale to non-professionals. They kill animals by causing internal and/or external bleeding in the gut, tissues, body cavities, joints and the skull. After ingesting anticoagulant poison, animals can suffer severe abdominal and muscle pain, weakness, lameness and breathing difficulties for up to 48 hours prior to death. After ingesting a lethal dose, rats typically take between three and nine days to die, and animals ingesting a lower dose can endure this suffering for even longer.
Despite this disturbing level of suffering, HSI/UK’s investigation found that for all the stores visited, lethal products on sale far outweighed non-lethal options, and a worrying number of staff incorrectly advised the customer that anticoagulant poison would cause little or no animal suffering. Staff at Dobbies in Bury St Edmund suggested it would cause “just a stomach ache” while the retailer’s Royston staff advised the mouse “goes to sleep, probably.” At Wilko in Fulham, London the secret shopper was told, “I don’t know what it does to them exactly… I think it would just shut down their nervous system first so that they are not in pain, and then kill them gradually.”
Claire Bass, executive director of Humane Society International/UK, said “Despite rodent poisons causing immense animal suffering, our secret shopping reveals that the nation’s biggest DIY and garden stores are stacked high with these products, and they are too-often recommended by staff without any mention of the dangers. Brits want safe, effective and humane ways of dealing with unwanted rodent visitors, but the default advice is typically to immediately resort to lethal poisons, and often with woefully misleading information about animal suffering. As well as being inhumane, poisons are not a sustainable solution because unless the root cause of rodent visitors is addressed, such as easy access to food and shelter, others will simply return once the poison is taken away. We are encouraged by those stores that have signalled intent to review their product ranges, and retrain staff to stop recommending shoppers reach for poisons as the first defence, instead prioritising humane and effective deterrent strategies and products. We’re also urging the Health and Safety Executive to bring in tighter controls to tackle the casual and excessive availability of dangerous poisons for DIY rodent control.”
*Note: The secret store visits occurred before pandemic lockdowns were implemented and were in full compliance with the UK restrictions in place at the time of the visits.
Summary of investigation findings:
- Around one in every three mouse control products offered at the stores visited was a poison.
- At Wickes, as much as 83% of DIY mouse control products offered were lethal poison.
- At least two in every five rat control products offered at the stores were poisons.
- At Dobbies Garden Centres, over 68% of all DIY rat control products consisted of poisons.
- At Wickes 100%, and at Wilko and Dobbies over 90% of all DIY rat and mouse control products stocked were designed to kill the animal.
- Notcutts performed best in providing effective and humane advice on how to deal with unwanted wildlife, whereas B&Q and Wilko ranked lowest.
- Staff at several stores openly admitted to a lack of knowledge on how to use the products and what course of action to take.
Highly toxic poisons can also present a risk to the health and safety of children, pets and other wildlife. Every year in the UK, wild species including foxes, badgers, shrews, barn owls, buzzards, kestrels and red kites, suffer and die after coming into contact with a rodenticide or eating poisoned rodents. In fact, to avoid the risk of accidental and secondary poisoning, professional rodent exterminators are advised to use rodenticides only as a last resort when other methods have failed. Yet staff at 18 of the 30 stores recommended using poisons as the primary course of treatment. Of the 27 stores where staff recommended a poison, 25 failed to advise that a bait station (a protective box to prevent other animals or children accessing the poison) must be used.
HSI contacted all stores investigated to provide them with the findings. In response to HSI/UK’s report, Notcutts said, “We have re-briefed all our colleagues on the sale of rodent control products reminding them to advise customers to first seek to prevent rodents entering the area by blocking entry points, removing the food source or using sonic repellents. The range of products available would then be discussed with the humane non-lethal products recommended including the catch, trap and release options that we have available, with the bait block stations as the last resort.” Dobbies, the UK’s largest garden centre, shared its decision to no longer sell any lethal or inhumane products. Graeme Jenkins CEO of Dobbies said, “Prior to receiving the report we made the decision to remove lethal or inhumane products from our stores and website. These products have been delisted and we will not bring in any new stock.”
David Ramsden MBE, Head of Conservation at the Barn Owl Trust said: “This new report represents a truly shocking and damning indictment of a system whereby leading UK retailers can legally sell highly toxic poisons to untrained people for uncontrolled use. It points to serious flaws, not only in the advice given to purchasers of rodent control products, but also the inadequacy of regulations imposed by our Health and Safety Executive which is supposed to be the UKs ‘Competent Authority’ on wildlife-killing chemicals. Unfortunately, even the industry-wide ‘Stewardship Regime’ has so-far failed to reduce the widespread contamination of our precious wildlife. A staggering 87% of wild Barn Owls in the UK contain rat poison.”
HSI advocates for an ethical approach to wildlife management, addressing the root cause of problems through human behaviour change, and ensuring that wildlife control measures are humane, with lethal interventions used only as a last resort to protect public health and safety. HSI’s report has been sent to the Health and Safety Executive calling on it to prohibit the use of anticoagulant poisons by untrained members of the public, and impose stricter requirements for amateur ‘pest control’ product suppliers.
Media contact: Leozette Roode, HSI/UK Media and Campaigns Manager, Lroode@hsi.org +27 713601104