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Brown rat
Colin Varndell/Alamy

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 pr