The British Horse Society has over the years been involved in grossly exaggerating the problem of ragwort, as I regularly blog about they and their members have been saying the craziest and most bizarre things. We have had them claiming, falsely that it is a serious risk to public safety, a serious threat to dogs, that it is killing off the cinnabar moth which actually relies on it for a food supply and that it is a serious problem in South Africa, where in fact there is no record of the plant occurring!
One top of that we have them going on the media and saying the nuttiest things like the cinnabar moth only living for a day and generally over exaggerating the issue time after time. In fact I think it is quite fair to say that a lot of what they have been saying is hysterical exaggeration. I have been doing some more research recently and I sent one article quoting the BHS to another expert and got the reply :-
“Wow that article is really hysterical!”
When the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), who are independent and just look at all the facts, have looked at company adverts repeating the nonsense then the adverts have been stopped, because they are misleading.
This time we have documentary proof once again of them exaggerating the risk once more. It concerns their very poor survey which they did last year. It is a masterclass in how not to do one. It asks leading questions and even repeats myths about the law, which of course being written in black and white is pretty much indisputable . These myths have led in the past not only to problems with the ASA but with the Press Complaints Commission too!
This time though I am going to deal with their gross exaggeration of the toxicity of the plant. Ragwort is toxic, but when you examine the data properly the main problem is abuse by starvation and there is also a problem with ragwort in hay on occasions but ragwort poisoning, we know from the international data, is not the problem it is made out to be.
They claimed in their survey, quite falsely, that “ragwort is extremely toxic to horses”. This simply isn't true. The term “extremely toxic” has a meaning in science. It means that 5 milligrams or less of the substance per kilogram of body weight is lethal. Now since there are a million milligrams in a kilogram we can say that this means 5 parts in a million of body weight is lethal. You will find this figure being used in a number of mainstream scientific sources as the consensus position of a definition for what constitutes an "extremely toxic" substance.
Now we actually have figures for the toxicity of ragwort to animals and they vary a bit from source to source but let's take a reasonable round figure of 5 percent of body weight. It isn't far different from the figures and the error here is so large it makes little difference. Some sources even give a higher percentage. I am using low figures here if anything. 5 percent is 5 parts in a hundred, comparing this with 5 parts in a million we get a bit of a difference.
This is to say that the British Horse Society is overestimating the toxicity of ragwort by:-
AROUND TEN THOUSAND TIMES!
Even if the figures I have researched from the scientific literature on the lethality
of ragwort should turn out to be wrong by a factor of ten which is highly unlikely then the BHS is still saying it is still wrong by around a factor of a thousand!
One of the sources I am using is a paper by well-known experts which appeared in the American Journal of Veterinary Research.
" cattle and horses ......... intakes of 0.05 to 0.20 kg/kg of body weight are lethal."0.05 kg in a kg is 5%. So you see 5% is on the lower side of the estimates so on that basis it is probably an error of more than ten thousand times.
What is worse 97% of people surveyed think the BHS is correct. This is dreadful. They have created such a hysterical panic that people are obviously being misled. We do know that this registered charity has been fund-raising using this kind of information. Ask yourself is this acceptable behaviour for a charity?
Another article on this is available here
Incidentally, people may think that that what I am saying is incorrect because ragwort is a cumulative toxin, well it won't be a surprise to regular readers that this isn't strictly true either.
Paracetamol can be a cumulative toxin, if you take a small overdose every day it will eventually poison you but if you just take a therapeutic dose it is harmless because a substance in the liver called Glutathione detoxifies the toxic breakdown products. Guess what? Glutathione detoxifies the ragwort toxic breakdown products too and it isn't the only substance to do it either.