BOOKS: Carbofuran & Wildlife Poisoning: Global Perspectives and Forensic Approaches

From ANIMAL PEOPLE,  June 2012:

Carbofuran & Wildlife Poisoning:  Global Perspectives and Forensic Approaches
Edited by Ngaio Richards   *  John Wiley & Sons 
(111 River Street,  Hoboken, NJ 07030),  2011. 
304 pages,hardcover.  $49.95.

Thirty-nine experts in various related disciplines contribute chapters to Carbofuran & Wildlife Poisoning:  Global Perspectives and Forensic Approaches.   The contributors might outnumber the readers who will ever peruse this first book-length examination of carbofuran and wildlife mortality from cover to cover.

Published nearly 50 years after Rachel Carson in Silent Spring sparked enduring concern about the effects of pesticides on wildlife, Carbofuran & Wildlife Poisoning might also be read as an exposé,  but almost everyone who encounters it will already be aware that carbofuran kills wildlife in many different ways–and probably kills more birds and mammals than any other pesticide still in use.  The primary purpose of Carbofuran & Wildlife Poisoning is simply to pull together within one set of covers all of the information that people encountering possible effects of carbofuran may need to know,  whether to diagnose the problem or to organize a litigative or political response.

Carbofuran,  also commonly called by the trade name Furadan,  is a carbamate pesticide which from 1965 to 2010 was globally among the most widely used of all agricultural chemicals. Carbofuran use is now restricted or prohibited in many jurisdictions,  but continues unrestrained in others.

I became aware of carbofuran,  then considered to be among the safest of the carbamate pesticide family,  after my cat Corky threw up a pink-coated seed corn kernel on Labor Day 1986.  Corky had suffered partial paralysis that morning.  She died 10 weeks later from the effects of dozens of extremely fast-growing gastrointestinal tumors.  Apparently Corky had eaten a bird or mouse who had recently ingested the seed corn and had perhaps been poisoned, enabling Corky to make a quick kill.

Ironically,  carbamate-coated seed corn was introduced because researchers had discovered that the combination of coating corn kernels with pesticides and seed-drilling was much less environmentally dangerous than conventional ploughing,  planting,  and spraying to get a corn crop started.

Using coated seed corn prevented soil erosion,  increased crop yield without having to increase the land under the plough, avoided poisoning birds and deer who foraged in corn fields planted by scatter-seeding,  and resulted in much less toxic runoff.

Compared to the generation of pesticides that Rachel Carson addressed,   including earlier organophasphate chemicals, carbamates in general and carbofuran in specific are meek and mild–but in part because they are more safely handled, they tend to be used more often,  to do more jobs,  in greater cumulative volume.

Recent misuses have included cases of indigenous herders poisoning hyenas in Uganda and lions in both Uganda and Kenya.  A Romanian animal control agency used carbofuran to kill dogs.  A Missouri man used carbofuran to kill eagles for their feathers.  But incidental collateral harm to wildlife,  especially birds, is believed to be far more damaging than deliberate misuse.

Chapters of Carbofuran & Wildlife 

Poisoning cover environmental health and regulatory issues in North and South America, the United Kingdom,  Ireland,  Spain,  Ireland, and Africa,  especially Kenya,  where poachers commonly use carbofuran to kill birds for human consumption.  In Scotland,  managers of captive bird-shooting estates lace carcasses with carbofuran to kill hawks,  owls,  and eagles who might prey upon grouse and pheasant ahead of paying clients.

The most insidious effect of carbofuran, however,  may be corrosion of wildlife law enforcement.  Making,  selling,  and using
carbofuran is big business.  Restricting  and eventually prohibiting carbofuran use in the U.S. took 18 years,  including a final push led by the American Bird Conservancy,  the Wallace Genetic Foundation,  the Turner Foundation,  and the New York Community Trust.

Though carbofuran is officially off the market in many other nations,  it remains in common use,  often bootlegged from the nations than do not restrict it.

Attempted prosecutions of carbofuran users and sellers,  Carbofuran & Wildlife Poisoning documents,  are often thwarted when
laboratories claim that carcasses of animals submitted for testing are “too decomposed” to detect residues which can actually be found among skeletons.  The real issue,  suggest several Carbofuran & Wildlife Poisoning contributors,  is simply that scientists prefer to avoid becoming caught up in protracted court proceedings,  for which they usually will not be paid.

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