Struan Stevenson: If Europe can't control its rats we may have to call the Pied Piper

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EVERY child knows the story of the Pied Piper of Hamelin. The fairy-tale by the Brothers Grimm relates how the little German town of Hamelin was overrun with "great black creatures that ran boldly in broad daylight through the streets, so that people could not put their hand or foot down anywhere without touching one".

Eventually, the people had to call on the services of a rat-catcher whose tunes on the pipes caused all the rats to follow him out of the town, where he drowned them in a pool.

Some historians have tried to match the story with real events in the Middle Ages, when bubonic plague was rife thanks to the swarms of rats that thrived in filthy cities.

Alarmingly, it now seems the European Union wants to allow the rodent population to explode unchecked again.

Socialist and Green MEPs in Brussels have tabled a raft of new proposals that will outlaw Europe's most commonly used rat and mice poisons.

A new regulation controlling the sale of biocidal products will be voted on in the European Parliament's environment committee on 3 June, with a final vote involving the whole parliament in Strasbourg on 6 July.

A total ban could be in place before summer.

The controversial move has outraged pest controllers, who point out that the list of substances to be banned account for 95 per cent of anticoagulant rat and mice poisons.

Anticoagulants, like warfarin, work by causing internal bleeding in rats and mice, which die several days after consuming them, away from public view.

The remaining 5 per cent of non-anticoagulant poisons are either dangerous to dogs, cats and other domestic animals, impractical or completely unsuitable for use on farms.

Hazel Doonan, head of crop protection with leading farming body the Agricultural Industries Confederation, has warned that the withdrawal of these poisons would pose "significant issues in the UK (food] supply chain", as rodents feasted on crops in fields and stores, contaminated grain, spread disease and damaged farm buildings.

Without effective poisons, rodent populations would grow exponentially. Mice breed all year round from the age of 50 days and can have litters of ten to 12 every three weeks. Rats can have up to five litters a year, averaging seven babies in a litter.

The brown rat, which has replaced the black rat known to have spread the Black Death in Britain centuries ago, is even more dangerous than its smaller cousin. It carries bacteria that cause Q Fever – a disease with pneumonia-like symptoms.

They are also responsible for huge amounts of structural damage to buildings, gnawing away at electrical cables, wiring, insulation, pipes and even brickwork and masonry, costing UK farmers alone up to 28 million per year.

It has also been estimated that 7 per cent of all house fires and up to 50 per cent of all farm fires in the UK are caused by rodents gnawing on electric cables.

Europe's lawmakers must think again. It is nonsense to say that these anticoagulant rodenticides are a danger to public health. It takes a tiny amount to kill an average mouse or rat – but humans would have to consume pounds of the stuff to suffer any health impacts.

If common sense does not prevail, the small German town of Hamelin had better enlarge its university. Thousands of pied pipers will be going there to learn their trade.

&#149 Struan Stevenson is a Conservative MEP for Scotland. He is a member of the environment committee in the European Parliament.