It isn’t everyday that the environmental leftists gang up with an international tobacco conglomerate to advocate policies that are responsible for the deaths of millions of pregnant mothers and small children throughout the Third World over the past 30 years, so the occasion is worth noting.
What has brought these two seemingly unlikely forces together? The recent decision by the World Health Organization (WHO) to reverse its 30 year-old ban on DDT for indoor use to combat malaria – one of the biggest killers of children in the Third World – after a mountain of scientific studies have repeatedly found that DDT is safe, inexpensive and the best way to eradicate mosquitoes that carry the malaria parasite. This move by WHO follows a decision by USAID in May of this year to begin funding malaria control projects in Ethiopia, Mozambique and Zambia as part of President Bush’s $1.2 billion five-year plan to reduce malaria mortality rates by 50 percent in 14 Sub-Saharan African countries.
This reversal by WHO flies in the face of the 2001 Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants, which calls for the eventual elimination of DDT and has been signed by 122 countries (the U.S. Senate has not ratified the treaty). However, many countries that face regular malaria outbreaks have refused to sign the accord, or, like Tanzania, are beginning to use DDT despite being signatories to the Convention.
During the negotiations over the Stockholm Convention, more than 300 environmental groups, including the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), Sierra Club, Greenpeace, the Pesticide Action Network, and Physicians for Social Responsibility had pushed for a total worldwide ban on DDT. Under pressure from representatives of the Third World who argue for the necessity of using DDT to fight malaria, Greenpeace and WWF has since softened their stand. Greenpeace co-founder Patrick Moore has spoken in favor of using DDT for malaria control, though the WWF still publicly advocates for a total DDT ban.
DDT was the victim of one of the first eco-hysteria scares following the 1962 publication of Rachel Carson’s book, Silent Spring, which warned that DDT threatened bird populations and larger animals up the food chain, including humans. Several environmental organizations, such as the Environmental Defense Fund, were founded to combat the supposed threat posed by DDT. Rachel Carson is today hailed as one of the founders of the environmental movement and has been honored on a US postage stamp, even though her research has subsequently been characterized by scientists as “fraud”.
In 1972, EPA Administrator William Ruckelshaus – a member of the Audubon Society, which founded the Environmental Defense Fund – ordered the banning of DDT despite the findings of two separate EPA commissions that DDT wasn’t a danger to humans and could be used without endangering the environment. In fact, an EPA administrative law judge ruled prior to the DDT ban after seven months worth of hearings that, “DDT is not a carcinogenic hazard to man. DDT is not a mutagenic or teratogenic hazard to man. The uses of DDT under the regulations involved here do not have a deleterious effect on freshwater fish, estuarine organisms, wild birds or other wildlife.” A 2001 study by Richard Tren and Robert Bates, titled When Politics Kills: Malaria and the DDT Story, notes that some former EPA officials who were involved in the decision to ban DDT confessed later that allowing the spread of malaria for population control was one of the factors considered when the EPA announced the policy.
Tragically, many other countries quickly followed the lead of the US by banning DDT. The result was predicable – malaria deaths skyrocketed around the world, even though malaria had almost been eradicated in the 1960s. As a result of the DDT ban, more than a million people die of malaria each year, mostly infants and children under the age of five. Current estimates put malaria infection worldwide at around 500 million.
Immediately after Dr. Arata Kochi, Director of WHO’s Global Malaria Department, announced the policy shift last month to allow indoor residual spraying (IRS) of DDT to prevent malaria, many of the same groups that had previously advocated for a total ban on DDT rose up in protest. Dr. Paul Saoke of Physicians for Social Responsibility was quoted as saying, “This approach takes us in exactly the wrong direction.” He was joined in opposing the WHO policy shift by Beyond Pesticides, the Pesticide Action Network and other environmental organizations.
Also joining the environmental groups in protesting the use of DDT for malaria control is the Big Tobacco conglomerate, British American Tobacco (BAT), who is bankrolling efforts to stop DDT use in Uganda for fear it will harm tobacco crops and – get this! – cause health problems in humans. Niger Innis of the Congress of Racial Equality, which sponsors anti-malaria projects in Africa, condemned BAT’s efforts to prevent the use of DDT, saying, “BAT makes billions of dollars annually selling carcinogenic tobacco products to Africans, Europeans and Americans. Then it claims a life-saving chemical might cause low birth weights in babies or harm its bottom line. It won't. But not using it will kill African mothers and children.”
This strange alliance of the environmental Left and Big Tobacco indicates that there is more at stake in the battle over DDT than science or public health, but this has been known even before the 1972 EPA ban. Charles Wurster, a senior scientist for the Environmental Defense Fund – the activist group that led the charge against DDT – told the Seattle Times in October 1969 that, “If the environmentalists win on DDT, they will achieve a level of authority they have never had before. In a sense, much more is at stake than DDT.”
In an op-ed last week in the NY Sun, John Stossel of ABC News reminds us even though untold millions have died in the Third World over the past three decades due to pseudo-science used to justify the DDT ban and fanning the fires of environmental hysteria by groups like Environmental Defense and the Pesticide Action Network, those responsible for the ban are not prepared to apologize for their actions.
But some are not quite so willing to ignore the complicity of these groups in a completely preventable genocide. Stossel quotes Steven Malloy, an adjunct scholar for the Competitive Enterprise Institute and publisher of JunkScience.com, “It might be easy for some to dismiss the past 43 years of eco-hysteria over DDT with a simple ‘never mind,' except for the blood of millions of people dripping from the hands of the World Wildlife Fund, Greenpeace, Rachel Carson, Environmental Defense Fund, and other junk science-fueled opponents of DDT.”
The staggering body count resulting from the DDT ban should be remembered as the Environmental Left has identified a new threat – genetically modified rice that has been fortified with human proteins found in breast milk. This development by an American company, Ventria Bioscience, in cooperation with researchers at the University of California-Davis, has been designed as a low-tech solution to help children in Africa, Latin America and Asia who are prone to diarrhea and dehydration – another leading killer of small children in the Third World – by naturally boosting their immune systems. But the forces of eco-hysteria are joining with rice producers to block the introduction and sale of the modified rice.
Whether or not the Environmental Left will be successful in its bid to be responsible for even greater genocide in the Third World remains to be seen.
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