Birth Control Meets Pest Control in Food and Beverage Plants

FSMA compliance is front and center, and pest control specialists are thinking outside the box to keep rodents, birds and insects in check.

By Kevin T. Higgins, Managing Editor

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The harbor in Hamilton, Ontario, links the city to Lake Ontario and to the St. Lawrence Seaway and the world. It’s a great transport option for food commodities like sugar.

Sugar in supersacks and in bulk arrive on one Hamilton pier, where end loaders convey 25,000 tons a year to a warehouse and deposit it on the floor in mounds topping 6 ft. in height. The raw sugar will later be pasteurized and filtered to 99.5 percent purity before being converted to liquid sugar, primarily for use in carbonated soft drinks.

The facility is BRC certified, proof that a pest control program is in place. But shoes stick to the floor due to sugar residue, and it’s easy to imagine a wharf rat or two cavorting on the sugar heaps when no one is around.

Virtually every food and beverage plant is unique, in terms of products manufactured, physical layout, surrounding environment and the specific challenges it faces in warding off pests drawn to an abundant food supply. Whether it’s phorid flies emerging from a drain, flour beetles looking for a bakery or rats calling to borrow a cup of sugar, every facility must deal with a pest of particular concern.

Roof spikes and netting are the go-to defenses against birds, with traps and misting machines that spritz the outside air with bird repellants providing back-up options. But “It’s amazing how often the solution is just closing the dock door,” observes Cameron Riddell, president of Bird Barrier (www.birdbarrier.com), a Carson, Calif., distributor of an assortment of bird and rodent control products. That’s not always possible, however, and when all else fails, the remaining solution might be avian birth control.

In 1998, scientists at USDA’s National Wildlife Research Center in Fort Collins, Colo., began developing an oral contraceptive to interrupt egg production by Canada geese. The contraceptive’s active ingredient, nicarbazin, was approved by EPA as a general use pesticide for pigeons and brought to market as OvoControl by Innolytics LLC. The bad news is that it is not approved for use with gulls, sparrows and other nuisance birds; the good news is that purchasers need not be licensed to buy it.

When pigeons or other birds are a problem, facility managers want immediate solutions. Disrupting reproduction is a longer-term answer, but in combination with an immediate trapping program, it can result in dramatic reductions in the overall bird population. “Where nothing else has worked, OvoControl fits in,” says Riddell.

In August, EPA registration of a contraceptive for rats was granted. The concept is the same: provide a feed source laced with 4-vinylciclohexene diepoxide to cause egg loss in females and interrupt sperm production in males. Trials in subway tunnels in New York and Chicago resulted in significant reductions in rat populations over time.

Experiments involving injectable contraceptives for rats have a long history, but this solution is the first self-administered birth control, notes Ali Applin, vice president-business development at Senestech Inc. (senestech.com), the Flagstaff, Ariz., firm bringing the contraceptive to market. State registrations now are being secured, with North Carolina and Georgia the first to allow its sale.

As with rodenticide, continuous feeding is required, says Applin; otherwise, females regain fertility in 60 days. The problem with poisoning, be it pigeons or rats, is that wild creatures tend to migrate into an area when the local population declines. “Often there is a huge rebound after the initial knockdown of rats,” she points out. “The problem isn’t the killing, the problem is the reproduction.”

The concept is receiving a receptive audience among some pest management professionals. Ron Harrison, an entomologist with Orkin Commercial Services (www.orkin/commercial.com), Atlanta, cites the obvious appeal to champions of humane treatment of animals. A combination of perimeter baiting to hold down populations to a manageable level and interior trapping of rodents attempting to enter a facility could be an effective one-two punch.

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