Wednesday, 6 February 2013

World Horse Welfare poor ragwort information

This is a few years old, this story, but I have just discovered this piece of poor information distributed by a horse charity. Unfortunately the horse charities have a poor record of accuracy. A while ago the British Horse Society were criticised after  their inaccurate stories led to one  of their leaflets being banned and a lot of inaccurate adverts stopped after action by the Advertising Standards Authority.

This time it is a letter published by World Horse Welfare.

It makes a number of questionable statements:-

I AM writing in response to Katie Campling’s article on ragwort “Get rid of this killer weed” (Examiner August 16).
The article stated that ragwort is “not thought to be dangerous to humans”, but World Horse Welfare would like to urge people to take extreme caution when handling it. Humans can absorb the poison through their skin, so ragwort should NEVER be handled without gloves..... 

However, people who have properly studied the plant have a different view. This article by Dutch Ragwort expert Esther Hegt and Dr Pieter Pelser a world leading authority on ragwort with a PhD on the plant  comes to a different conclusion.

Through our research about the sources of the reports on the danger of touching ragwort, we conclude that there is no substantial evidence that there is a health risk for people. The amount of pyrrolizidine alkaloids that might be absorbed through the skin is very low and there is no proof that these alkaloids are being changed into a toxic form.
Then the letter goes on:-

Ragwort is a hooligan plant which spreads incredibly quickly; once it flowers about 200,000 seeds per plant are open to the elements and this year World Horse Welfare field officers have answered record numbers relating to it.
Aside from the rather emotive and unscientific use of the word "hooligan" the facts seem at odds with these claims. Ragwort seeds have been studied and the overwhelming majority fall within a few metres of the parent plant. See Ragwort Seed dispersal for more details. So It does not spread "incredibly quickly"
It is also untrue that a plant usually produces 200,000 seeds per plant. This is a highly unlikely and exceptional figure in fact half that figure is a high figure as we would see from the studies here in this article on Ragwort Seed production.

As for them receiving record calls could that be because people like this charity are publishing exaggerated information which is generating hysteria?

We do know of course that lots of the panic about ragwort appears to be totally made up.
Ragwort Hysteria latest entries

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