October 2008 No. 7

General articles:

QLIF training and exchange workshop - Improved quality in organic food production

QLIF papers in
'Cultivating the Future Based on Science'

Registration open
for the 5th annual
QLIF congress

Knowledge synthesis on opportunities and barriers for organic production

QLIF research

Suckling systems improve natural living in organic dairy calves

Herbs in the diet moderates roundworm infections in organic pigs

Animal welfare of rodent pests needs public awareness

Differences in the composition between organic and conventional milk

Ozone treatment keeps the quality of fresh-cut green leaf lettuce

Single cleaning of pig pens is ineffective against roundworms


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Reseach Vision...
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Knowledge synthesis...

Nordic congress...


Animal welfare of rodent pests needs public awareness

by Bastiaan G Meerburg, Frans WA Brom and Aize Kijlstra
Wageningen UR

Animal welfare is an important issue in animal experimentation, but almost completely ignored in rodent pest control. This inconsistency would be solved by applying the same criteria for rodent pests as for experimental animals. Whereas this would possibly be impractical, a good start would be to raise awareness of existing legislation and encourage the use of the least invasive and most humane control methods available.

Concern for welfare of experimental animals

Welfare issues of animal experimentation have attracted the attention of the general public during the past decades. Because of these concerns, society has drawn up laws about the way research animals should be treated.

In the European Union, for example, Directive 86/609/EEC aims to harmonise national provisions covering the welfare of animals used for experimental and scientific purposes. The directive includes measures related to the use of experimental animals such as their housing and care, and the minimisation of pain, suffering and distress of these animals.

Member states have to comply with these general principles governing the use of animals in research. In UK this is recorded in the Animal (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 (A(SP)A), and also the Nuffield Council on Bioethics established in 1991 examines ethical issues raised by new developments in biology and medicine.

The Council has proposed criteria that can be used to judge animal experimentation. These criteria are extremely useful for policy making since there is a need for a single policy on animal experimentation. The criteria are mainly based on the ‘three Rs’ – refinement, reduction and replacement (>> Box 1).

Apathy towards methods of pest control

In contrast to the situation for animal experimentation, much less public attention is paid to the harm done to animals during control of pest animals. Thus, in the case of rodent pests inhumane control methods are often applied and accepted, such as poisoning anticoagulants or glueboards, where it may take up to days befor the trapped animals die.

Public attitude towards rodents reflects the fear of rodents that has been embedded in European culture for centuries. This has gradually developed into a general antipathy to the presence of commensal rodents in and around our premises.

Indeed, as rodents can spread pathogens to livestock it is important to limit their presence on farms. On organic farms, this might be even more difficult because of the open nature of the farming system (>> Box 2).

The need for effective rodent control has led to the development of many control methods that cause animal suffering. In general, these methods can be classified into three different types: bait poisons, fumigant poisons and non-poisonous measures. The drive behind developments of these main types of rodent control is shown in >> Table 1.

Inconsistency in the human-animal relationship

In summary, the majority of the public does not have moral concerns regarding pest animals, the method of rodent control or the humaneness of the killing. As a consequence, the struggle for more animal welfare in rodent control does not come from society but from the scientific world and (sometimes) policy. In contrast, animal experimentation has the full attention of the general public, which explains the amount of legislation on the use of animals in research.

Thus, the present analysis demonstrates an inconsistency in the human–animal relationship: the general public has demands about the way research animals are treated, while it shows apathy towards the methods of pest control. Consistency demands a shift in the public’s perception about rodent pests and a shift in the methods currently used for rodent control purposes (Meerburg et al., 2008).

Prevention and monitoring reduces need for control

The inconsistency in relation to animal experimentation and rodent control would be solved by applying the same criteria for rodent pests as for experimental animals. Whereas this would possibly be impractical, a good start would be to raise the public awareness with regard to rodent management.

Thus, effective rodent management consists of three elements: prevention, monitoring and control.

Prevention focuses on the exclusion of rodents or on reducing the attractiveness of their habitat by, for example, minimising access to food and water. Removing specific habitat elements that function as hiding and nesting places (e.g. shrubs in gardens within 2 m of the family home, piles of rubbish), blocking rodent entrances to houses (e.g. ventilation shafts) with wire netting and reducing food and water access will lead to a significant reduction in rodent presence. Monitoring improves the decision-making process in the prevention of rodent infestations.

This approach to pest control is known as integrated pest management, or IPM, and is applied as part of the quality procedures (e.g. HACCP) in many business sectors. Effective rodent management requires a thorough understanding of the ecology of ‘pest’ species. Unfortunately, the importance of the first two steps (prevention and monitoring) is often overlooked in private environments (e.g. residential areas), and consumers usually apply rodent control.

Therefore, raising public awareness with regard to rodent management is necessary not only among consumers but also among animal welfare organisations, policy makers and researchers such as animal ethicists. Raising the public awareness should also encourage the use of the least invasive and most humane control methods available.


Meerburg, B.G., F.W.A. Brom and A. Kijlstra, 2008. The ethics of rodent control. Pest Management Science, 64 (12): 1205-1211 , DOI: 10.1002/ps1623. Also available in Organic Eprints: http://orgprints.org/14931/