December 01, 2020 5 min read
Denmark has a unique way of looking at pest control. In most cities, someone who saw a rat would start finding ways to get rid of it. On top of that, they'd likely be on the lookout for any of the other rats who might still lurk within the shadows. Most of the world would see this as a prudent strategy to remove pests as quickly as possible. But in Denmark it'd be seen as a crime.
Denmark's laws may seem extraordinarily strict to people outside its borders. Citizens who want to fight a rat infestation need authorization from the DanishEnvironmental Protection Agency. This level of authorization isn't easy to obtain either. Usually if someone is allowed to exterminate rats then they'll be employed as a professional rat controller. Authorization for this role typically requires completion of both a course and exam. In some cases, people with demonstrable experience will also be able to work within this role if they have taken an equivalent course in another EU/EAA State.
This level of regulation may seem like overkill at first. However, it's important to keep the area's history with rat infestations in mind. Rats have been a continual scourge across Europe for hundreds of years.
Rats are intelligent and can carry a wide variety of diseases. This has made them quite a threat to humans. Europe had to face this threat at its very worst in the 1300s as rodents carried the bubonic plague, also known as the Black Death, between towns and villages. The Black Death is a jarring example of what rodents can do to a human population. This disease killed 30% to 50% of Europe's population in the 1300s. It's clear why many cultures would take rodent extermination seriously in the wake of such an event.
Hundreds of years later, Denmark is well aware of how much of a threat rats can be. The country is particularly wary of the role rats can play as an agent of transmission. Rats can not only carry disease but immunities to poison as well. Both of these factors play a large role in Denmark's wariness toward unlicensed extermination. In Denmark, rat control is seen as somewhat analogous to antibiotic use.
People can and should receive antibiotics when appropriate. However, most countries have seen a rise in antibiotic resistant bacteria over the years. This is in large part due to the fact that individuals have used antibiotics haphazardly over a period of decades. Bacteria exposed to non-lethal doses of antibiotics are often able to devise and pass on an immunity to them.
Antibiotic resistance in dangerous diseases has become a huge issue in hospitals. One will typically see patients with such an infection isolated from other patients and staff alike. And this all happened with moderate regulation of antibiotic use. Patients need a prescription to purchase antibiotics. However, once they own the pills they're able to use them without a doctor's supervision. People misuse antibiotics so often that it's created the modern issue of antibiotic resistant bacteria. Of course at this point you're probably wondering how this relates to rats in Denmark.
The Danish Environmental Protection Agency has concerns over rats developing resistance to poison in the same way that bacteria become resistant to antibiotics. If that happened, then extermination efforts could be severely hampered. This could be catastrophic if a rat population were acting as a carrier to human pathogens.
An argument can be made for Denmark's wariness simply by looking at recent events within the country. A mutated form of the COVID-19 virus broke out in a mink population within Denmark. The country acted to destroy the mink population in a fast and effective manner. One has to wonder what might have happened if it had occurred in another country which was less wary of animal borne disease transmission.
Rat control Denmark style is certainly unique. And it does appear to effectively counter many aspects of disease transmission. But are there any downsides? The most obvious issue with rat control Denmark style is that one has a built in delay upon seeing rats. Anyone who's dealt with pests can attest to the fact that the faster the response the greater its effectiveness. This is particularly true with rats due to how quickly they reproduce. A rat's gestation time is typically just three weeks. Even a delay of a few weeks can mean a whole new litter of pests.
One also sees a more subtle issue with rat distribution and questions regarding payment. If rats appear equally in two independently owned locations than whose responsibility is it? This is a huge question since the situation in Denmark differs so dramatically from most other countries. In the U.S. people would usually come to an agreement and handle it together. One neighbor might just volunteer to handle things for neighboring houses. It can't work that way when extermination is tightly regulated. In Denmark people can and do argue over who bears responsibility for a rat infestation.
Overall fees for rat control in Denmark have risen by about 80% on average over the past five years. Some municipalities have seen an increase of 300% or more. The Allerød Municipality has the largest numbers with a shocking 693% increase in fees over the past five years.
One can assume that the regulations for rodent control were made with the best intentions. However, this has arguably created an artificial monopoly. Infestations which anyone would handle on their own elsewhere is now in the domain of an exclusive few. This has led to longer waiting times and larger fees. Neither issue is particularly attractive to people dealing with rats. It's little surprise that many people are eager to put responsibility on neighbors when possible.
There's additional issues to be found in areas where people pool their resources. Consider how a homeowners association could allot fees in comparison to a single household. Or you can imagine how a single home would fare in comparison to an apartment complex. People who can pool resources have a significant advantage when trying to hire exterminators. The end effect is that people in detached homes wind up paying more for the same service than people in apartments.
This might seem like an overly speculative situation at first. However, it's a very real problem in Denmark. Representatives of the Nye Borgelige party in Allerød Municipality have commented on the issues involved with rats coming from sewer mains. This is an understandable concern given that this region has seen an increase of about 300% for rodent control costs over the past five years.
In the end it's difficult to say whether Denmark is right or wrong in their policy. It's clear that their overall strategy was put in place for some valid reasons. However, it's equally clear that the plan has developed some unexpected problems over time.
If you're used to solving rodent problems on your own you may well wonder if there might be a way to compromise. For example, toxin-free rodent traps sidestep any issue with potential immunities developing in the population. It remains to be seen if Denmark will consider or even adopt these and similar measures over time as a way of compromising. Until then, Denmark serves as an example of the fact that divergent strategies can be effective. However, it also serves as an example of how any divergent strategy will likely face unique problems as well.
Every year, rats and mice enter 20 million U.S. homes uninvited. They reproduce rapidly, and can cost thousands of dollars in damages and extermination costs. They can ruin equipment, spoil food and start fires by chewing on wires.
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