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Peet's Coffee & Tea and the Next DDT

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On June 23, 2012 Peet's Coffee & Tea (NASDAQ: PEET) announced a proposed business deal that broke my heart, and the hearts of many involved in issues of child safety and wildlife conservation. As a loyal customer and huge fan of Peet's, and everything this San Francisco Bay Area company once stood for, I have purchased my last cup of coffee at Peet's.

Peet's Coffee & Tea announced to the world via this press release that it intends to be acquired by Joh A. Benckiser, a major stakeholder in Reckitt-Benckiser.

Reckitt-Benckiser is the company that manufactures and markets the most widely distributed rat poison on the market, d-CON. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has moved to ban d-CON and others mentioned in my previous post here.

In June of 2008, the EPA put Reckitt-Benckiser (and four other producers of dangerous anticoagulant rat poisons) on warning. Reckitt Benckiser and four other manufacturers were told that the risks to children, wildlife and pets was unacceptable and they were given three years to come up with safer alternatives. The deadline of June of 2011 passed, and just two of the manufacturers complied with the EPA's request and withdrew their dangerous anticoagulant poisons from the market.

Three of the manufacturers; Reckitt-Benckiser, Spectrum Group and Liphatech are refusing to comply with the EPA's ban, and are suing for their right to continue selling their over-the-counter rodenticides to the public. These are lethal poisons that impact approximately 12,000-15,000 children under the age of six every year, according to the American Association of Poison Control Centers. It is not just children being poisoned. Wildlife is also being poisoned via secondary poisoning and our beloved pets. Next time you take your dog or cat to the vet, ask the staff how many cases they see of dogs accidentally ingesting rat poison.

For those not familiar with the term secondary poisoning, this occurs when predators such as eagles, hawks, owls, bobcats, foxes etc eat a poisoned rodent. These powerful and persistent anticoagulants then kill the very animals that serve as nature's rodent control. Personally, I have worked in wildlife rehabilitation and conservation since 1996. I have experienced what happens when a hawk or owl eats a rodent that has been poisoned, and I would like to share with you what happens when products like d-CON and other anticoagulants are used for rodent control.

One Sunday morning while I was working at a wildlife hospital in the spring of 2008, an elderly gentleman contacted me by phone to tell me about a red-shouldered hawk, one that visits his property daily to drink from his pond and to hunt for rodents. Only today, this red-shouldered hawk was splayed out on the ground, mouth open and was gasping for air. I instructed this elderly caller that if he could approach this hawk, something was very wrong. I instructed him to get a towel and slowly approach this bird, and without putting himself at risk, to wrap this hawk in a towel like a burrito and contain him in a dog crate or box and to bring him in.

He arrived about 10 minutes later with this lifeless hawk wrapped in a towel. As he handed me this majestic bird he had tears in his eyes and he proceeded to tell me how much he and his wife have been enjoying "their red-shouldered hawk" for years. I rushed this dying hawk back to the med room and as I held him in my arms I noticed the all too familiar symptoms of secondary poisoning. Blood was oozing from his beak, nostrils, and ears and from his anus. His body was limp and he gasped for air. One other staff member and I quickly began the standard protocol of administering high doses of Vitamin K and other fluids in an attempt to prevent this hawk from bleeding to death. Despite our efforts, that Sunday morning we were not successful. This exquisite and beautiful red-shouldered hawk died as we desperately administered the only known antidote in an attempt to save his life.

This is what happens when d-CON and other rodenticides are used. Lab results indicate which poisons are involved and the majority of poisonings stem from brodifacoum, the active ingredient in the over-the-counter rat poison d-CON.

In July, 2011 The California Dept of Fish and Game sent a strongly worded letter to California Dept of Pesticide Regulation asking that stricter controls be put in place for these poisons. They requested that these over-the-counter rodenticides; brodifacoum, bromadiolone, difethialone and difenacoum be reclassified as "State Restricted Materials." Along with this request was a spreadsheet that contained 240 cases of confirmed cases of secondary poisoning. This list included, but is not limited to: bald eagles, golden eagles, great horned owls, spotted owls, barn owls, mountain lions, black bear, bobcats, coyotes, red-tail hawks, red-shouldered hawks, the endangered san joaquin kit fox and I could continue, but I think you get the idea.

Journalist Tom Knudson, recipient of two Pulitzer prizes, authored this piece for the Sacramento Bee last year.

These powerful rodenticides have already proven to be "the Next DDT" and it is truly frightening how little power the EPA has in their ability to get them off the market.

Enter the grassroots organization; "Raptors are the Solution" AKA RATS. RATS is a broad, national alliance of individuals, non-profits, local governments, and others concerned about the ecological impacts of anticoagulant rodenticides. Founded in the San Francisco Bay Area in 2011 after Cooper's hawks began dying from eating poisoned rodents, RATS began working with cities and counties throughout California to encourage them to adopt resolutions discouraging businesses from selling dangerous rodenticides.

The good news is that municipalities can and have passed resolutions calling for retailers to voluntarily pull these banned products from their stores. Municipalities that have passed such resolutions include; the City and County of San Francisco, Marin County, the cities of Berkeley, Richmond and Albany. More communities are having these discussions and contacting RATS for advice and guidance on getting voluntary product recalls in place.

As a member of RATS, I reached out to Peet's headquarters in Emeryville, California soon after this proposed transaction with Reckitt-Benckiser was announced to ask for a meeting with Peet's CEO, Patrick O'Dea. I proposed a meeting that involved the two founding members of RATS; Allen Fish, the Executive Director of Golden Gate Raptor Observatory (www.ggro.org) and Lisa Owens Viani, who works for Golden Gate Audubon Society. Included in this request for a meeting was the letter below to the Board of Directors of Peet's.

The official communication I received back from Peet's on this request was polite and complimented me on my passion. The words used were carefully chosen, and I got the sense the email had been well scripted by their legal team. The proposed acquisition by Reckitt-Benckser was moving forward and it was disappointing and concerning that my request for a meeting was ignored.

I have a business background and at one point, I owned a tea company myself, so I do understand the need for capital investment. However, it deeply saddens me that a company like Peet's has grown to the point that they will allow themselves to be purchased by a suitor that arrogantly ignores the EPA and will fight for "their right" to produce deadly products that kill children, pets and wildlife.

In the San Francisco Bay area there are no shortages of coffee houses so boycotting Peet's Coffee & Tea will be super easy. If you care about child safety, wildlife and the safety of your beloved pets, I ask that you join Raptors Are the Solution in a boycott of Peet's.

I love Peet's Coffee & Tea but I love children, pets and the wild animals we share our world with even more.

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