I’m writing this in response to an article that keeps arriving in my inbox or on my Facebook feed lately. I think I even ticked a few people off when I responded on Facebook. The think is, I don’t care if you want to take all sorts of bogus crap that the natural news advocates are selling on their pages, but when you start feeding that stuff to your horses, I feel like I have to say something about using common sense.
The article is a blog post written by Joe Camp about using Diatomaceous Earth as “natural” worm control. Now I have nothing against Joe Camp, in fact, I enjoy reading most of what he has written. It’s just that there are some logical fallacies in this article that sent up some red flags in my mind. There’s definitely more to write about than I can do justice to in a couple of Facebook comments.
Flag #1: The appeal to nature fallacy. This one goes something like this: If something is natural, it must be good for you. Well, cyanide and arsenic are both natural compounds, but I wouldn’t argue that they are good for you. Poisonous mushrooms and rattlesnakes are also natural. Anything that claims to be good simply because it is natural is suspect here. You have to have a better reason than “it’s natural.”
Flag #2: The flipside of the appeal to nature fallacy is the all chemicals are bad fallacy. This one gets almost laughable as you see internet memes where some pundit explains how all chemicals are bad and you should never have any of them in your diet. Umm… isn’t everything made of chemicals? Yeah, you’d starve. You have to remember that it is the dose that makes the poison. Where I live, the water in the valley is radioactive. People got a bit freaked out about that a few years back, but you have to realize that we are talking ppb–that’s parts per billion! Nobody glows when you turn off the lights. Again, if you make a claim that something is bad because “chemicals,” you are going to have to do better.
Bottom line here: Not all natural substances are good for you. Not all chemicals are bad.
Flag #3: The Miracle Cure for Everything fallacy. After telling us about how Diatomaceous Earth kills worms, Camp goes on to quote an article telling us about all of the positive health benefits of DE in humans. I counted no less than 17 conditions that DE will alleviate or cure! Sounds too good to be true! Oh…wait…
Flag #4: The anecdote fallacy. It works for me, therefore you should do it. To be fair, this isn’t Camp’s fallacy, it is the fallacy of everyone reading his blog that says “Camp says it works for him, so I’ll go ahead and do it.”
And if all your friends were jumping off of cliffs? Oh wait… I hang around teenagers too much!
Irony #1: Camp’s introductory paragraph states that people were telling him to worm up to once every 6 weeks. I don’t know if he asked a vet or looked up worming schedules on the AAEP website, but a cursory search of latest worming practices on Google shows that this is false. The latest wisdom is that we should conduct fecal egg counts and only worm when absolutely necessary–the same exact practice Camp has adopted only minus the use of DE. This is probably the real reason that his horses are doing so well. In some countries in Europe, you can’t even purchase wormer for your horse until you can show a fecal count over a certain limit. This is to help reduce resistance to the worming compounds.
Irony #2: Have you ever read the story about how Ivermectin was developed? It seems that a researchers were looking into “folk” cures to see if there might be merit in any of them. Of course, most folk cures worked because the patient was either going to die or get better anyway. If the patient got better, they kept using the cure whether or not it was really doing any good. Some of those old cures really did have merit, though, and researchers often find new treatments by combing through old ideas to see what might work. Anyway, the researchers found a macrocyclic lactone that is produced naturally in soil by Streptomyces Avromitilis. They named it avermectin. Wait just a cotton pickin’ minute! A chemikillz that’s natural?? The world may implode!
But what about DE? Food grade DE is generally recognized as safe. It is used as a filtering compound for many different foods. I have read several articles about it and talked to some vets about it and decided that it wasn’t for me. I have included a link to an article in Equus magazine where a vet states that no studies have actually shown DE to be effective against worms. Another article that I read said that it was probably not effective as a feed through control against fly eggs in the manure but I can’t find that article to use as a reference. It is supposed to be more effective sprinkled on manure piles, but I couldn’t find any reliable references to support this either.
Actually, the fact that there is a dearth of scientific references supporting the use of DE in pretty much any context is another red flag for me. I actually did a google search on “DE will kill you,” just to see what would pop up and I still got mostly natural websites espousing the benefits of DE. Why don’t I buy it? Because they are all saying, “it does this. It does that.” But nobody is providing any evidence or even explanations for how what they are claiming could be true. “It’s abrasive,” seems to be the party line. Um… yeah… so is sand paper, but I’m not eating that or feeding it to my horses either.
In fact, other than a few references to “blood in stool,” on a few message boards, (These were quickly written off as not possibly coming from eating an abrasive substance, so most likely hemeroids–don’t bother visiting a doctor for that silliness), the only danger I could find is that you certainly don’t want to accidentally inhale it. It’ll really mess up your lungs (but not your digestive system!). I spend a lot of time thinking about feed management to prevent sand colic. The last thing I’m planning to do is feed my horses (or myself) what amounts to finely ground sand!
My personal takeaway is this: I’ve been doing the exact same program as Camp except without the DE for years and it is working for me (except I have the vet do the FECs for me). Nobody seems to be conducting or publishing actual, well designed studies on the effects of DE on worm or fly control. Everybody just uses it because everybody else says it works. The vets I have talked to don’t have a very high opinion of it. I choose to trust veterinarians. They went to school for a long time. They know a lot more than I do. Most of them keep up with new methods and research. I’m going to let common sense rule on this one.