Hartz Mountain disputes our story on pets and pesticides; the Center responds

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Earlier this month, the Center received a five-page “open letter” from Hartz Mountain Corporation alleging that our 12/16/08 story, Pets and Pesticides: Let’s Be Careful Out There, contained inaccurate and misleading information about spot on flea and tick treatments for pets.

Marta Draper, vice president of research and development for Hartz, contends in her letter that Hartz spot on products are as safe or safer than the more expensive products sold by veterinarians. And she asserts that the Center made pyrethroid-based spot on treatments seem especially dangerous by misquoting — or quoting only selectively — from an article published in The Veterinary Journal in June 2008.

We’ve provided the full text of Ms. Draper’s letter: We respectfully disagree, though, with Ms. Draper’s contentions, and would like to take this opportunity to respond.

Ms. Draper says we incorrectly characterized The Veterinary Journal piece by saying in our story that “dermal exposure by application to the skin or coat is the most common route of toxic exposure, potentially causing hyperexcitability, tremors, profuse salivation, and seizures.” We believe we accurately reflected The Veterinary Journal piece; that piece said that “dermal exposure by the skin and hair coat is the most frequent route that leads to intoxication” and then went on to say that signs of pyrethroid intoxication include “salivation, hyperexcitability, hyperaesthesia, tremor and seizures, dyspnoea, prostration.” Ms. Draper also labels as a “gross mischaracterization” our contention that pyrethroid toxicity targets nerve and muscles in pets. That contention relied on The Veterinary Journal piece, which stated that “Pyrethrins and Pyrethroids affect the voltage-dependant chloride channels found in the brain, nerves, muscle tissue, and salivary glands.”

Ms. Draper also asserts in her letter that we left out important information that was included in The Veterinary Journal report. We disagree. Listed below are the alleged omissions she cites, and quotes from our story:

  • Pyrethrin and pyrethroid pesticides are less toxic than the organophosphate products they replaced. Our story says organophosphate products were replaced by pyrethroids, “which are generally thought to be less acutely toxic.”
  • In most cases misuse of these pesticides by pet owners is what causes bad reactions. Our story says, “The authors of the study in The Veterinary Journal agree that misuse of pyrethroid products is often the cause of illnesses…”
  • The best way to avoid problems is by educating pet owners. Our story directly quotes The Veterinary Journal piece, in stating that,“ ‘The best way to avoid serious problems is by educating pet owners to use products strictly according to label directions.’ ”
  • Veterinarians need to advise clients to read directions before using products. Again, we quoted directly from The Veterinary Journal story, in saying that “‘Veterinarians must advise clients using flea care products to read and follow label instructions completely before applying them on or around their pets.’”
  • Products labeled for dogs should never be used on cats. Our story says, product labels contain “multiple warnings not to it use on cats,” and later, “Common misapplications include applying more powerful dog products to cats.”

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