Avitrol® and the Claims of the Animal Rights Protest Industry
I recently watched the YouTube video “Realities of Avitrol®-PSA (Updated)” produced by the BunnyWorldFoundation (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mYdIz9N7TMY). This 4:39 min video is well made with clear video, heart tugging background music, and a kind masculine voice for the narrator. I happened upon the video during some research on avicides (toxicants used to kill birds) and decided to watch it.
Aside from the hyper-emotional pleas and customary consultation of the opinions of a child, (I never quite understood why the opinions of a child are relevant in that we don’t ask them if they should attend school or brush their teeth but I digress), the video makes several claims that certainly beg for justification or proof.
Problem #1. The Agony Claim:
The narrator claims (about 1 minute into the video) that the bird’s death by Avitrol® (I will accept for the sake of argument that the assertion of Avitrol® poisoning is true) is “agonizing.” Let’s evaluate that statement. According to Dictionay.com http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/agonizing “agonizing” is defined as a verb (used without object) 1.to suffer extreme pain or anguish; be in agony. 2. to put forth great effort of any kind. –verb (used with object) 3.to distress with extreme pain; torture. So if I understood the definition properly, definition 2 doesn’t quite fit the context of the video, so I will assume the use of agonizing by the narrator is meant to imply that the bird must have been experiencing “pain” and undue pain at that.
Unfortunately for the narrator, he neglected to debunk the claim of Canadian research that asserted birds affected by Avitrol® do NOT experience pain (Assessment of Humaneness of Vertebrate Pesticides. 1979. by H.C. Rowsell, J. Ritcey, and F. Cox of the Dept. of Pathology, University of Ottawa). What is interesting about the report is the authors’ prediction found on the last page. Essentially, the authors argue that no amount of evidence would be able convince individuals witnessing birds dying from Avitrol® from thinking that the birds were not experiencing pain (p.8), even though their research did not find evidence that the birds were in fact experiencing pain. In other words, the birds look like they are in pain but are not, at least according to their findings.
I perfectly understand why the public thinks that Avitrol® is causing pain in these birds. The twitching, posturing, and disorientation can be quite disconcerting to the uninitiated. The fact is watching animals die makes people reflect on their own mortality. Since most dread death (See Denial of Death a Pulitzer Prize winning book), it is understandable. I can even appreciate why animal rights protest industry groups (note BunnyWorldFoundation is not the only animal rights protest industry group to oppose Avitrol®) would disagree with the Rowsell report. My problem is that the video neither debunks the report nor does it mention that researchers claim that Avitrol® is humane. I think that this “oversight” could be seen as deceptive advertising or more mildly “spin.”
Problem #2. The Non-Target Claim
At about 1:38 minutes into the video, the narrator asserts that Avitrol® doesn’t drive wildlife away but instead it attracts wildlife. I am sorry but I find this comment either silly or misleading. On the silly interpretation, I would note that for Avitrol® to work it must first be ingested. In one sense the claim is true, Avitrol® mixed with corn or other grain will attract animals that eat such food. So of course, if birds are frightened away before they eat it then we wouldn’t need Avitrol® at all. The reason why Avitrol® works is because the flight alarm comes from the affected birds themselves and thus has more frightening efficacy than say owl effigies that are quickly recognized by birds to be non-threatening.
I believe the narrator misleads by confuses terms and purpose. Avitrol® is mixed with untreated grain and then placed where the birds can find it. Only a small percentage (up to 20% of the flock) will be affected by the toxicant when used according to the label, which is required by Federal Law. The reason why I think it is misleading is that Avitrol® is no different than any number of toxicants. As noted in my book, Dominion over Wildlife? An Environmental-Theology of Human-Wildlife Relations (Wipf and Stock, 2009), animal rights activists regularly like to blame inanimate objects as being inhumane or irresponsible when wildlife control involves human effort too. Avitrol® is only as effective and safe as the technician who uses it.
Avitrol®, when used properly, rarely harms non-target wildlife because the technician is observing the feeding and is able to stop non-target animals from feeding on the treated grain. In addition, technicians are to pick up dead birds to prevent the already low risk of secondary poisoning to scavenging wildlife. When understood in this manner, it is entirely, in my opinion, misleading for the narrator to say that Avitrol® doesn’t frighten wildlife it attracts it, when the fact is Avitrol® affected birds do frighten the flock by their erratic behavior. If it didn’t work, why would technicians continue to use it?
Conclusion: Fact Check Animal Rights Activist Claims
My ultimate point is that when animal rights protest industry advocates make assertions regarding wildlife control make sure you test their statements. Frequently, they use imprecise terms and broad generalities which make great press copy but fail to provide the full context, especially when the public has little understanding or knowledge of wildlife control and its challenges. Think of it like the way a child views a doctor about to give her a shot. The child just sees a cruel man looking to hurt her. The wise mother understands that the pain is necessary for long term health.
Disclaimer and Conflict of Interest Statement
Stephen M. Vantassel has not been paid to write this article, nor has he received compensation of any kind from anyone connected to the Avitrol® Corporation.
About the Author
Stephen M. Vantassel is a Certified Wildlife Control Operator and opponent of the anti-environmentalist movement known as animal rights. He welcomes debates from thoughtful people willing to read, on the facts and ethical issues related to animal damage management and the animal rights movement.