RaidpackHow inconclusive PBO research threatens millions of Third World lives

The ineffectiveness of Raid ‘ONE-SHOT’ against house flies looks like the result of two things: alarmist medical research about fly sprays; and a less than honest marketing policy by SC Johnson, the producers of the brand. The Slog investigates, and concludes we may have proliferated the house fly population by the use of a spectacular own-goal.

Ask a sample of consumers about the relative health hazard of flies and cockroaches, and they will say cockroaches are infinitely more dangerous. But they would be wrong: the World Health Organisation reckons flies are thirty times more dangerous. The humble house fly is responsible for millions of Third World infant deaths per year as a result of dehydration caused by diarrhoea.

flyBut the fly has been able to gain resistance to fly sprays in recent years. This is a comment from 2011 on the comment thread of games-freak supplier Facepunch:

‘….a few must have been improperly sprayed, and survived the toxicity of the Raid, and i’m assuming that they laid their mutant maggots somewhere unseen, for this morning i woke to find more flies than usual…
HOWEVER, amongst the healthy flies that were drifting around the kitchen, vomiting all over our food, were some rather odd looking “pods”, weird flies that didn’t make any sense to me at all, so i treated them like flies: with a full-on blast of Raid to the fly.Alas, amongst the chorus of buzzing, these strange flies seemed immune to the spray, some of them died but most didn’t…. One of them is healthy enough to fly, so i have to keep an eye on this jar and make sure that fly doesn’t find another to mate with, or we’ll have a new species of fucking epic flies!!!’

As I type this post now, there are seven flies on my laptop screen. They seem to thrive on Raid One-Shot.

In fact, what seems to have happened is that the flies first mutated into dead ends, but then did mate with healthy flies to produce a new hybrid house/blow fly completely resistant to Raid. I’ve had this problem for three years now here in France: during August and September the house is infested with flies – and none of the major brands work. I’ve tried US, French, German, Greek and Spanish brands.

But Raid is the biggest brand on the planet, and has for years used the advertising strapline ‘Raid Kills Bugs Dead’. The TV campaign in the US by Foot Cone & Belding has won a cupboard full of creative awards over the years. So let’s talk about Raid.

Raid One-Shot in particular is completely ineffective against the common house fly.

The process of immunity seems to have began around the 2006-8 period. Drilling down into the subject suggests it started in southern Europe, reached New Zealand in 2013, and has now spread to every square metre of land on the planet including southern South America.

Yet it needn’t have happened.

A substance called piperonyl butoxide (PBO) was an ever present ingredient in all multinational fly spray brands until researchers at various med schools began studying it. One such project, at the Duke University School of Medicine, got everyone really worried. This is an extract about the report – my emphasis:

‘The testing showed that piperonyl butoxide (PBO) disrupts a biological signaling system that is “critical in neurological development,” the researchers reported in the abstract of their paper, published in the May 2012 edition of the journal Toxicological Sciences. The study found that the disruption of this critical pathway “may be the molecular basis for profound developmental defects in children exposed in utero to PBO.”

The answer – on the basis of one study – was ‘maybe’. Anyway, multinational brands have since removed PBO from their products: look at your can of Raid One-Shot spray, and it will confirm that the substance is 100% absent. Without PBO, it would still have killed flies….just more slowly. But the speed issue has delivered unto us a much bigger problem.

You see, PBO kills flies within ten seconds. That means there is no time to mate and mutate. But when allowed to die slowly post PBO, the affected flies still produced maggots, which begat mutant flies….which mated with healthy flies to produce Supeflies that are completely resistant to the spray.

As Reuters had already reported in 2011, the results of studies so far ‘don’t prove that PBO in itself causes developmental delays’ in children. But SC Johnson, the producers of Raid, said they would ‘review’ the formulation. It looks like they did, and removed the PBO. It also looks like they didn’t bother to tell anyone either, because Google appears to be information-free on the subject. (Cue three anoraks who will now find the announcement: the point is this – did you notice it?)

Yet Raid and its competitors are still being sold worldwide. Based on my experience, they’re all completely ineffective in killing flies, but they sell it and the major supermarkets sell it on. I can’t believe they don’t know it’s useless; so why is Raid One-Shot still in distribution?

If I may I’d like at this point to review some comparative data to see if everyone is now buying a useless product, but at least there’s a good reason for it. Bear in mind from what we know already, PBO is linked to arrested child development in tests, but not causally. Hold those thoughts.

Raid is the world’s Number One pest control spray. It was launched in 1956. Think on that: nearly 60 years ago. During that time, not one consumer has sued the company on the basis of harmful effects of PBO on child development. The company has been sued several times on the basis of other elements in the product making adults ill – but only the pyrethrins and pyrethroids. The cases I’ve reviewed seem to me classic examples of allergies.

Now it could be of course that the reason so many people seem to me dumb today is that their mothers were using Raid One-Shot as an overall body spray during pregnancy some time in 1975. But somehow, I doubt it: if there was a real danger with PBO, we would surely know about it by now. Whereas what we do have is a few scientists saying that there might be.

As a result of this dubious conclusion, by contrast what we now have is a very serious potential problem. Joking apart, flies aren’t just a nuisance: they are a massive health hazard. The house fly Musca domestica alone carries some pathogens on its feet and body which contaminate food easily: The house fly is known to be a contact vector of some deadly diseases, including typhoid fever, dysentery, yaws, salmonella, polio, anthrax, and conjunctivitis.

Raid One-Shot appears, as far as one can ever reasonably prove anything with zero doubt, completely ineffective against this killer: but it continues to be sold without PBO – containing a mix of Prallethrin and D-Phenothrin – and is the World’s Number One brand.

I went to Auchun, Intermarché, Casino and Lidl supermarkets in France last week, and asked for an effective fly killer spray. None of them mentioned the problem of PBO-free products not working. As such.

So I suppose what I’d like is two answers: why have we let a major cause of death proliferate on the basis of unproven laboratory research? And why have we not been told that Raid is ineffective?

Over to you, medical school pointy-heads and SC Johnson.