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De Omnibus Dubitandum - Lux Veritas

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Research is Dandy, but Silver Bullets are Handy

By Rich Kozlovich

In 1996 when the Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA) was passed whole categories of pesticides were lost to the consumer and to professional applicators. It was perfectly obvious to those who hadn’t been drinking the Kool-Aid that things were going to change for the worse. And they did! We now have a nation that is being plagued by bed bugs; a pest that had been largely eradicated since around 1946.

When the boys came back from WWII they brought back stories about the effectiveness of DDT. That was the beginning of the elimination of bed bugs in the U.S. and much of the developed world. Throughout the entire history of mankind this had never before happened. By the 1950’s they were gone, in spite of the fact that they were becoming resistant to DDT. By this time carbamates and organophosphate pesticides had been developed and that finished them. DDT went nine rounds with bed bugs and Malathion knocked out what was left in the tenth!

I did my first bed bug job in the early 1980’s and since there weren’t any around any longer, I didn’t have a clue what to do. Foreign travelers brought their bed bugs with them to their hotel room, unfortunately they didn’t take them with them when they left. I treated the room with a carbamate category pesticide called Ficam (bendiocarb) one time and the problem was gone. So why are they so hard to kill now?

Because of FQPA we lost carbamate and organophosphate pesticides. We were then stuck with pyrethroids. The problem with pyrethroids is that they draw the same kind of immune response in bed bugs as did DDT. It is called cross resistance. So it wasn’t long before they were so resistant to pyrethroids that for all practical purposes some species may as well have been immune. All pyrethroids aren’t all alike. They all have slightly different modes of action that can make them more or less resistant and more or less effective.

Today, this article appeared, Bed bug insecticide resistance mechanisms identified.  It states that “a research team at Virginia Tech has discovered some of the genetic mechanisms for the bed bug's resistance to two of the most popular pyrethroids -- deltamethrin and beta-cyfluthrin.” They believe in the importance of understanding the “biochemical basis for insecticide resistance in bed bugs” as this will provide “molecular markers for surveillance “. They go on to say; "Different bed bug populations within the U.S. and throughout the world may differ in their levels of resistance and resistance strategies, so there is the need for continuous surveillance”. They note that; "Deep sequencing of pyrethroid-resistant bed bugs reveals multiple mechanisms of resistance within a single population".

They studied two populations of bed bugs – “a robust, resistant population that had come from Richmond, Va., in 2008, and a non-resistant population that had been collected from Ft. Dix, N.J., and raised in a lab since 1973.” The resistant population required “5,200 times more deltamethrin or 111 times more beta-cyfulthrin to kill the [resistant] bed bugs than the lab bugs during a 24-hour test.” OK, but isn’t that why bed bugs are now a plague….did some think that we didn’t notice that before? After all….it was the pest control professionals who told everyone resistance was becoming a major problem in the first place. Make no mistake about this. It was the pest control professionals who let many of the academics (there were some notable exceptions) know what was happening, how to inspect for them and how they needed to be treated…..not the other way around. We have dealt with this from the beginning because that is what we do. Academics deal with it when there is grant money.

Some of these lab specimens, which have been kept sequestered for years, are so susceptible I could spit on them and kill them. Although I am not aware of any incidence of resistance to organophosphates, and there is only soft evidence of resistance to carbamates, we already know that resistance will eventually develop in pests to all pesticides. That is the pattern in nature! So what is their goal is this study?

I have no problem with these kinds of studies because this enhances our knowledge on pest resistance; but what products are being developed from this work? I sincerely hope that I am wrong; but there is none as far as I can tell! The reality is that many of the people doing this kind of research are opposed to utilizing the products that already have been developed but lost to FQPA. We attempted to get propoxur (better known as Baygon) labeled for bed bugs use. There were people like Dini Miller (part of this research group) that were opposed because they claimed it would hasten resistance and that we needed to rid ourselves of the “silver bullet” mentality. Ridiculous! What would we be saving it for? Would we stop using life saving antibiotics because resistance is occurring in patients? No…that would be insane. Why is this different?

After identifying the specific genes responsible for creating these layers of resistance they went on to “conclude that highly-resistant bed bug populations can have multiple genetic mechanisms conferring resistance to pyrethroid and possibly other insecticides. It is reasonable to suggest that the genes responsible for both acquired insensitivity to these neurotoxicants and their enhanced detoxification have been selected for in populations that have been subjected to long-term insecticide pressure." So, other than identifying the specific genes, what part of this conclusion didn’t we already know?

DuPont has come out with a new termiticide. A pesticide that requires no signal word! All pesticides have a signal word that is related the level of toxicity. Danger (Skull and Cross Bones), Warning, Caution and Caution again. This pesticide requires no signal word, and says so on the label, because it kills termites….just termites. I has no effect on anything else…..nothing except termites. That is how biologically specific it is. Is that where this research is leading? I don’t seem to get that understanding. So unless this research is utilized in the development of new products that will be inexpensive, easy to use and available to the public ….it is money wasted.

We need something that works NOW! Fine…. do the research; but in the meanwhile bring back those silver bullet organophosphates like Dursban and carbamates such as Ficam and Baygon. We need silver bullets! We have had silver bullets! We deserve silver bullets. And most importantly, silver bullets exist! Everything else is misdirection. Any claims to the contrary is blatantly false!



  1. I cant tell you Rich how often I've expressed the same exasperation at the exact same inanities. Like, why the hell do we care about the concerns over "herbicide resistance" from folks who never want us to use herbicides to begin with (Greenpeas, etc.). Exactly perfect point with antibiotics: who cares about resistance if we don't ever use them.
    Final thought: don't we have enough different active ingredients in pesticides to manage the resistance problem, and if not, don't we need MORE different modes of action, rather than less? Why are we banning pesticides if resistance is a main problem?

    Alex Avery
    Hudson Institute, Center for Global Food Issues
    author of "The Truth About Organic Foods'

  2. Alex,

    Thank you, I am flattered. Comments from you are always welcome.