Thursday, February 21, 2008

Dead Starlings in Indiana

A friend forwarded this link to me about the dead starlings being found around the Fair Oaks CAFOs:

"Numerous birds found dead" - Rensselaer Republican 02-20-2008

And I immediately recalled another recent article on the subject of dead starlings, but these were found in Randolph County (not far from another CAFO, I might add):

"State chemists' office investigates deaths of dozens of starlings" - Peru Tribune 02-16-2008

The Randolph County incident was also reported in Palladium-Item (read it here).

So one incident in our area is reported on Feb. 20/2008 ...another reported in Randolph County on Feb. 16/2008 many others?

Two reasons I bring this up...
1. The Republican article stated -- "The pesticide is used less than 15 times within a year in the state according to USDA figures."

So, can we assume the Fair Oaks starling kills are the "2nd" time for using the pesticide this year? Maybe we'll know for certain after the State Chemists have determined more from the Randolph County investigation.
2. In the article, Carol Bannerman, a public affairs specialist for the United States Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Wildlife Services, is reported claiming that -- "starlings are problematic for farmers because they feast on cattle feed and rob cattle of their proper protein. Then they contaminate feed and water with their bird droppings. The droppings can spread disease to both the animals and the humans that consume the animals."

Hmmmm... Ms. Banning seems to be quoting from the USDA/APHIS/ADC document #NCR451 which goes into great detail on the subject of controlling starlings, but maybe the Republican didn't quite quote her precisely? It implies the starlings are creating all kinds of disease, doesn't it?

Here's a little snippet from NCR451:
At livestock facilities, starlings consume feed and contaminate the feed and water with their droppings. Where high protein supplements are added to feeds such as cattle feeds, starlings may selectively eat the high-protein portion.

Starlings may also transfer disease among livestock facilities, a problem that particularly concerns swine producers. For example, TGE (transmissible gastroenteritis) virus can pass through the digestive tract of starlings and be infectious in the starling feces. However, researchers have found healthy swine in lots with infected starlings. Thus, even infected starlings may not always transmit the disease, especially if starling interaction with pigs is minimized. TGE may also be transmitted on boots or vehicles, by stray animals, or by infected swine added to the herd. (emphasis added)

Sounds like Ms. Banning said exactly that, right? Read deeper young grasshopper...

Maybe I'm interpretting the above wrong, but the way I read it, the birds could transfer diseases from one livestock farm to another, which seems to be the biggest economic concern. And that brings up another question...

Which came first? I'm not talking about the bird or the egg.

I'm wondering how do these birds get infected in the first place?

I mean, if they're carriers of diseases that can affect entire CAFO herds, then surely they have to have picked the disease up from somewhere in the first place, somewhere that -- per chance -- there were infected animals. Or, perhaps, there are infected animals at the location where the starlings need to be eradicated?

Pesticide use to eradicate the starlings, according to NCR451, is not the first (or only) method for controlling the "problem" large farms face from these so-called pests, but it is one of the easiest and less time-consuming for large feedlots.

Which brings me to another quote from the Renss/Repub article:
"Starling eradication methods include a federally licensed pesticide called DRC1339. The USDA has been recently using the pesticide in Jasper County to control the starlings and protect livestock at local dairy/cattle feed lots.

"This method is used only if the birds cannot be subdued," said Bannerman."

And this...
According to USDA studies, there were no signs of poisoning among predators within 30-200 days of consumption.

Bannerman said people shouldn't allow pets to eat dead starlings, but there was little risk of poisoning to household pets.

"Pets would have to eat a large quantity of the starlings for them to be affected," said Bannerman."Humans should not touch the dead birds with their hands."

Okay, so let's take a quick look at the black box warning for the concentrated version of this pesticide:
Due to High Acute Inhalation Toxicity and Eye and Skin Corrosiveness to Humans; High Acute Toxicity to Nontarget Birds and Aquatic Invertebrates; and the Need for Highly Specialized Applicator Training.

For retail sale to, and use only by, USDA APHIS Certified Applicators trained in bird control or by persons under their direct supervision.

I found that on a document that reads: "FOR DISTRIBUTION AND USE ONLY WITHIN WYOMING"

Here's one of the general restrictions for use:
This product contains a slow-acting avicide which kills target birds in 1 to 3 days. As many types of nontarget bird species are potentially vulnerable to DRC-1339, it is necessary to use care and to follow the requirements of this label to minimize impacts to nontarget species.

I found the DO NOT list a bit alarming:

  • DO NOT apply by air

  • DO NOT apply within 50 feet of bodies of water

  • DO NOT harvest any crop for use as food or feed that has been contaminated with this product.

  • DO NOT graze livestock or plant any rotational crop in treated non-crop or in crop areas that may have been contaminated by treated bait spilled from bait application containers for one year (365 days) following the last application of bait made from this product...

  • DO NOT apply bait(s) in areas where there is a danger that Threatened or Endangered Species will consume baits...

  • DO NOT apply baits made from this product in a way that will contact workers or other persons.

And the list goes on. Yes, there's far more and you can read about it through this link. Sorry I don't have the Indiana version. Not enough time for me to hunt that down today.

DRC-1339 products are highly toxic to sensitive species such as starlings and pigeons, is slightly toxic to non-sensitive birds (raptors, songbirds), and is differentially toxic to mammals. Since it is rapidly metabolized and excreted by the target bird species (starlings), scavenging birds that feed on treated dead birds would likely be unaffected.

Another USDA document (from PA) states:
Only USDA personnel may use DRC-1339 concentrate. Use of this label is a cooperative effort between USDA and the farm operator, since several days of prebaiting and monitoring are required prior to actual use of the product. Typically, the farm operator is primarily responsible for prebaiting (with assistance from USDA), and USDA is responsible for use of the toxicant and follow-up monitoring.

Whew... that's a lot of detail.

But there's more. Want to know about the toxicity of DRC-1339 and how they came up with the doses? If you're into that kind of detail and/or you want to learn about a few of the concerns that have been raised recently regarding this pesticide, here's an interesting study.

Keep in mind, when reading the above study, check out the authors' purpose for writing it (to rate dosage levels recommended for its use and dispel fears over the toxin) and -- ahem -- watch for any non-objective statements. (Not saying there are any present, just, well...)

Until next time -- TTFN!

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