By Nikki Jamieson
According to one Vauxhall resident, the town is being invaded.
During the regular Oct. 17 meeting, a local man and a Lethbridge exterminator, came as a delegation to Vauxhall town council, seeking their help to eliminate the red and confused flour beetle problem the town is having. While it is expected that some bugs will get into any home — especially in rural Alberta — residents living on the west side of town have noticed a steady up-tick of flour beetles in their homes.
The Vauxhall resident, who asked that his name not be published in the Advance before he spoke at the delegation, had to call exterminators in because it was getting so bad. But after spraying the place several times, and not finding any possible sources that would be attracting the flour beetles, Mike Kanyo, from Kanyo Pest Control, told him that the beetles must be coming from a third source.
“That’s not uncommon for this to happen. I get calls for flour beetles all the time, usually it’s in the rural setting,” said Kanyo. “They have a very clean home. His wife has all the flour and everything put in tupperware, sealed containers, so right away, I knew their house wasn’t the source.”
Other homeowners told them they were having similar problems, with the beetles getting in everything from sugar bowls to beds.
Eventually, a possible source was tracked down; Rowland Seeds, a seed operator west of town. An ex-employee confirmed to them that the place was crawling with the beetles, and a call placed to the company’s head office about the beetles told them that they did not spray for pests, as they were “supposed to be certified organic.”
“That means I can’t take any pesticides and spray it, not that I would be spraying the feed itself anyway,” said Kanyo. “But unfortunately, for your town, until they deal with this problem, your town is going to continue to have this problem. In fact, it will get worse.”
Red and confused flour beetles feed on broken grain, grain duct and household food staples such as flour, rice, and nuts. Unfortunately, neither type of beetle is considered a pest under the Alberta Pest Act, so if the company is the source of the flour beetles, they cannot be forced to spray for them through that. And while winter may kill them off for now, unless something is done it is only going to get worse.
“They’re not considered an issue,” said Cris Burns, CAO for the town, when he consulted current and previous health inspectors for the town. “You can have them, for example, on a bed, and lay down on a bed, and it’s not considered to be harmful to you, while one bedbug is considered to be harmful. They said they can’t control it, all they can really do is inform the public. That’s from the health inspector.”
“They breed and they feed, and then they migrate. And these suckers can move a lot and also produce a lot of offspring,” said Kanyo. “I’ve never seen anything this bad, to tell you the truth. If I lived in this town, I would be concerned.”
Kanyo used the example of a grain mill, P&H Milling in Lethbridge, saying that while he does not do the spraying for flour beetles for them, (although he does do their pigeon control), they have to spray monthly for flour beetles to keep them under control. But from his talk with the Vauxhall seed company, it doesn’t seem like they are willing to do anything to get the flour beetle population under control.
The Municipal District of Taber told the resident that while the majority of Rowland Seeds’ business is non-organic, they do some organic products. He talked to a food inspector, who talked to the Canadian Food Institution and is trying to find out who can regulate the company. The next step is to try to talk to the Little Bow MLA Dave Schneider, but as he is also busy, he wanted to know if council would be willing to help him out.
“I can get a petition, go around, I can guarantee over half the houses have them,” said the resident. “Some of the people I’ve talked to, they find them in their beds, they find them in their sugar bowls, they find them in their cupboards. We have to live like this, like really?”
“Winter isn’t going to kill them off. I’m not here to scare you, I’m just here to confirm that it is an issue,” said Kanyo. “But winter won’t kill them off. Come next spring, they’re going to be right back, and they’re just going to continue moving throughout the town.”
“You just have to do a treatment (to get rid of them). From the sounds of their situation, that’s ground zero. And if they’re willing to do anything, then they can have any company, not me, or any other company come in and do something about it. But they’re choosing not to do anything, to hold that title. And unfortunately, it’s turning into a problem for everyone else.”
When questioned by council as to how he knows this is the source, Kanyo replied that in his search of the resident’s house, no matter how hard he searched, he couldn’t find a food source, yet the flour beetles kept coming back. When he went door to door, he still couldn’t find a source. Although he admitted that he personally has not been to the site, a former employee told him that the place was infested.
“More information is needed on the situation, but definitely keep us up to date on anything that you find out, and we’ll keep you up to date if there’s anything new that comes across our desk as well that’ll help you out,” said Margaret Plumtree, Vauxhall mayor. “Before I go after any one company or person, I personally would like to make sure it is that person or organization, because if it’s a little bit difficult to actually track, and most of what you’re going on is an ex-employee. Well, we’ve all been there with ex-employees or heard a story. So we want to make sure that it is the right place that it’s starting from.”
Kanyo admits that while they do not have a lot of proof that says this is the source, it is common knowledge in the exterminator business that seed lots are where flour beetles are attracted. There is also some question as to whether or not they still have the organic status.
“Even if it were found to be the source, the problem is there’s no legislation by higher levels of government — is what I’m hearing — regulating these critters, and we’re about the lowest level you can get; at the municipal level,” said Richard Phillips, Vauxhall councillor. “It’s really hard for us to come up with rules that the provincial or federal level doesn’t have. Although we can sympathize greatly with your situation, I don’t know if we have the tools to deal with it.”
The resident wondered if the town could spray for them. However, while it might slow them down it won’t eliminate them as they are not the source, according to Kanyo, who expressed interest in visiting the site.
“If they just got on board, and we were able to just take care of ground zero, then all the problems in the town should just slowly dissipate,” said Kanyo.
After the delegation left, Plumtree again expressed a desire for more information, reiterating her distaste for having just the word of an ex-employee.
“Depending on how that person became an ex-employee can make a big difference,” said Plumtree. “That being said, I’m not saying we dismiss the information either, I would just like more information before hanging the company out to dry.”
Some members of council wondered if it was within the town’s responsibility to be making sure people don’t have bugs in their house.
Council received the delegation for information, and passed a motion to send a letter to Rowland Seeds, expressing concern over citizens approaching them about flour beetles, but not accusing them of anything.