This World Pest Day we look at the future of pest control with an overview of the major drivers of change in the pest control industry globally.
By guest author Harry Wood.Established by the Chinese Pest Control Association in 2017, World Pest Day is celebrated on the 6th June annually, and supported by a number of international pest control organisations, including the National Pest Management Association (NPMA) and the Confederation of European Pest Management Associations (CEPA).
The aim of World Pest Day is to showcase the essential role pest management plays in protecting businesses and public health, by demonstrating the professional image of the pest management industry, promoting the use of pest management in a scientific and socially responsible way, and by raising awareness to the big threats caused by small pests.
Viruses and vector-borne diseases:
For the fourth time this century – and we are only 20 years into this century – a virus thought to originate in bats has caused a major outbreak of a deadly disease – SARS, MERS, Ebola and now SARS-CoV-2.
Another strain of Coronavirus, Ebola, or flu could cause a new pandemic at any time. And as the Zika outbreak in 2015/6 showed, vector-borne diseases ( any disease that results from an infection transmitted to humans or other animals by blood-feeding anthropods, such as mosquitoes, ticks, and fleas) are also a major and ongoing threat.
Vector-borne diseases are responsible for around 17% of all infectious diseases, causing over 700,000 deaths and over 700 million infections every year. As humans encroach on wild areas, we’re inadvertently selecting for new pests and pathogens that can adapt to the human environment and do us more harm.
The problem with urbanisation:
The continued industrialisation and urbanisation of the planet are creating a global society that depends on fine balances to operate successfully and survive. A microscopic virus thought to have originated in wild bats and carried into a fresh meat market has disrupted the global economy and people’s lives for over a year.
Diseases aren’t the only threat from advancing urbanisation, however. The encroachment of land also threatens global food supply systems by making them less resilient and sustainable. Around 14% of the world’s food supplies are lost to spoilage and pests every year. Globalisation of food supplies gives pests more opportunity to infest and damage food.
Pest control is both a local and a global issue, affecting homes, businesses and communities, and also affecting the global population and global trade. While the Coronavirus pandemic has made people more aware of global issues, there are still a number of “traditional” problems facing the pest control sector as we look to the future.
Here’s an overview of the major drivers of change in the pest control sector:
Sustainable development goals
The UN has called for a Decade of Action to achieve the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) by 2030. It has urged all sections of society to mobilise to ensure there are adequate resources, smarter solutions, regulatory frameworks and commitments by governments, institutions, the private sector and other stakeholders. Every business has a role to play to ensure the goals are met. The following SDG's are of particular relevance.
• SDG 12: responsible consumption and production:
This includes the aim to halve per-capita global food waste at retail and consumer levels, along supply chains and includes production and post-harvest losses. Even in developed countries, there are significant losses and pest control has an important role to play. Reducing food losses also influences other goals such as poverty (SDG1), hunger (SDG2) and climate (SDG13), where food loss and waste generate 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions.
• SDG 3: good health and wellbeing:
Many pests have a direct effect on health and wellbeing because they transmit diseases and affect people’s quality of life by biting, contaminating food, damaging food stocks and buildings, as well as the nuisance of their presence.
• SDG 11: sustainable cities and communities:
Urban areas – especially densely populated and underdeveloped areas with poor sanitation and waste collection systems - provide a haven for many types of pest, from rodents to mosquitoes, bedbugs, fleas and other biting insects.
• SDG 15: life on land and SDG 14: life below water:
Protecting life on land and in the water includes avoiding the use of toxic chemicals - where possible, preventing environmental pollution, preventing the poisoning of non-target species, good waste management, and implementing a sustainability policy across a business to protect global ecosystems for the long term.
While the world’s focus has been on the COVID-19 pandemic, mosquitoes have carried on infecting people worldwide. Mosquitoes are the most widespread pest and are responsible for more illness and deaths than any other vector. They have a significant impact on economic development in many countries. COVID lockdowns have disrupted mosquito-borne-disease eradication programmes, especially for malaria, and put back previous gains by years. WHO has called on countries and global partners to increase efforts to eradicate malaria and for better targeting of interventions, new tools and increased funding.
Climate change is slowly but surely impacting pests that live and breed mainly outdoors. Global warming is changing the survival and breeding zones of many pests, creating new challenges for pest control. You can read more about the impact of climate change in our previous blog post of the same title.
On a practical level, businesses can implement a broad range of measures to improve sustainability, not just for achieving the SDGs, but because it makes business sense in the long term. The world is fast reaching a tipping point for climate, ecosystems, food production systems and resources, which necessitates a radical change in thinking about business policies and practices.
Businesses can introduce sustainable practices throughout their operations, including using non-toxic pest control solutions, wherever possible and investing in research and development to keep pest control solutions ahead of the pests’ ability to adapt to and avoid pest control measures.
There are many non-toxic solutions for controlling pests, such as proofing measures, heat treatments, LED insect light traps and smart technology for remote monitoring and control. Technological solutions that have not traditionally been associated with pest control include artificial intelligence, computer modelling and the vast scope of biotechnology, such as biopesticides, sterile insects and genetically modified organisms. Naturally, Rentokil is at the forefront in developing sustainable and effective non-toxic solutions and is continually developing its use of algorithms, mining of big-data analytics and other technologies for its digital pest management.
Legislation and resistance
Working in parallel with drivers for sustainability is legislation to protect human health, non-target wildlife, and the environment, which has steadily reduced the number of pesticides available for pest control.
Pest resistance is another factor that has been reducing the effectiveness of pesticides. This has been recognised for over 100 years and has been driving ongoing research to develop new products long before environmental problems were even noticed.
In 1976, pesticide resistance was recorded in 364 insect species and reached 500 by the year 2000. Each generation of pesticides has brought hope that resistance could be avoided, but it has never happened. It takes around ten years to develop resistance to a new type of pesticide, depending on pest species. Sometimes, a gene that gives resistance to one pesticide can confer resistance to another, such as DDT and pyrethroids.
The US National Research Council concluded, however, that chemical pesticides will continue to have a role for the foreseeable future because of both the development of reduced-risk products and the lack of viable alternatives for some uses.
The future is sustainable
Sustainability is the main driver of change in pest control. It has a direct influence in driving the development of products and technology used for pest control to be both more effective and have a minimal effect on the environment. It has an indirect influence by the whole business needing to help achieve the targets of the UN’s sustainable development goals.
This is not just an ethical issue; increasingly strict legislation and public pressure are slowly removing the option of non-sustainable solutions.
The key to effective and sustainable pest control will be novel solutions that avoid toxic chemicals and outsmart the pests, whether it’s the individual intelligence of rodents or “collective intelligence” of mass populations of insects that can avoid control by behavioural or genetic selection. Only those businesses that are agile and innovative will succeed.
Governments, the public, analysts and investors are increasingly expecting businesses to show they are taking sustainability seriously. By partnering with an international pest control company like Rentokil you can be assured that pest control operations in your business are doing just that.
For more insights into pests and pest control, make sure to sign up for our blog updates in our monthly newsletter.