The EU vs. DDT

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In the Wash Times, Richard Tren and Marian Tupy expose the dirty secret of DDT: It's an effective–and generally safe–way of combating malaria in Africa. But members of the EU are ready to embargo Ugandan agricultural products if that country uses the pesticide to save over 100,000 Ugandan kids a year.

Despite the fact that malaria is both preventable and curable, the disease kills up to 110,000 Ugandan children every year. Based on its past performance, it is reasonable to expect that the introduction of DDT could dramatically reduce that death rate.

Unfortunately, DDT also happens to be an insecticide that most environmentalists love to hate—and nowhere more so than in the capitals of Western Europe. DDT has been used for more than 60 years and in all that time no scientifically replicated study has been able to link the chemical to cancer in humans. Despite the bad press from environmentalists, the insecticide has an incredibly safe record of use.

Whole thing here.

Reason's Ron Bailey–author the great new Liberation Biology–cracked the complicated case of DDT and bird eggs a while back. And he tallied up the costs of banning the stuff, both for raptors and human beings:

Banning DDT saved thousands of raptors over the past 30 years, but outright bans and misguided fears about the pesticide cost the lives of millions of people who died of insect-borne diseases like malaria. The 500 million people who come down with malaria every year might well wonder what authoritarian made that decision.

Whole thing here.

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  1. As someone who isn’t very familiar with DDT and its effects, I have to wonder…

    Is there no other less contraversial insectiside that can be used to kill said insects?

    And if it it really is so safe, why are environmentalists so against it? What’s teh theory as to why this was targetted? The way its discussed arounbd these parts seem to imply that there is some kind of conspiracy on the part of environmentalists — and if that is the thinking, what do they have to gain by attacking DDT in this way?

    Just curious

  2. So then, we bring back DDT. Malaria goes on hiatus. This is a very good thing. Raptors decline. This is a bad thing. In ten years or so mosquitos mutate a defense to DDT and malaria returns and poor people begin to die from it again. Then can we stop using DDT?

  3. More evidence that environmentalism is a religion.

  4. 100,000 Ugandan kids a year really isn’t that special. You just can’t impose your western values on the entire world.

  5. The trick to cracking this nut is to distinguish the modern mosquito control applications, the “minute quantities to inside walls,” from the field spraying agricultural uses that got the stuff banned in the first place.

    This is one of those subtle distinctions that those who benefit form polarized debates about the environment don’t like to make.

  6. there are very few dogs in this fight that don’t benefit from polarization, joe.

  7. Field spraying may not be the most effecient way to utilize DDT, but it is clearly not a justifiable reason for a ban. “subtle distinctions” are not what gives DDT the public image of being the most heinous of insecticides.

    (And yes, DDT is not absolutely banned, as was discussed in a prior thread. I’m using “ban” to encompass all of the various severe restrictions worldwide that prevent it from easily being used on a regular basis).

  8. So, joe, are we overlooking some subtle distinction that the EU is making here? Or are they just throwing out the Ugandans with the bathwater?

  9. Raptors go extinct.
    1,000,000 children live.

    Good work DDT.

    Mutate a defense? I suppose it’s possible in the long run, but DDT was in use for a lot longer than that before it got banned. It was still really great at icing mosquitos.

  10. There are other ways of combatting malarial mosquitos. Off the top of my head there is a method which sterilizes a bunch of males, these are released at a site identified as being infected with malaria, the females attempt to breed to no avail. Since gene pools of mosquitos spread slowly, problem solved. There are other ways some attack the parasite directly. DDT is not the be-all end-all either/or solution to Malaria.

  11. “Field spraying may not be the most effecient way to utilize DDT, but it is clearly not a justifiable reason for a ban.”

    It’s effects are a perfectly good reason for a ban on field spraying.

    No, Shelby, I’m including the EU in that statement about polarization. Those pricks will use any excuse to protect their farmers from African competition anyway. In other words, they’ve got a motivation to ignore the distinction.

    Great logic you’ve got there, JCoke. I’m sure eliminating a whole class of predator won’t cause an outbreak of plague rats. Not that that’s bad for kids.

  12. The modern environmental movement was sparked by Rachel Carson’s attacks on DDT. Despite the fact that the pesticide is safe and effective, and despite Carson’s shoddy research, greens today cannot acknowledge that they were wrong on this one. They simply cannot. To do so would be to destroy their founding mother. It would be like a devout Mormon acknowledging that Joseph Smith was a con artist.

  13. JMoore,

    Carson’s thesis was that the use of synthetic pesticides was harmful to bird populations. All your hand waving aside, you have nothing to refute that. We were not wrong on that one; your eagerness to piss on your opponents is getting the better of you.

  14. I’m sure eliminating a whole class of predator won’t cause an outbreak of plague rats. Not that that’s bad for kids.

    Maybe DDT will completely wipe out the raptors, but it’s hard to care about that now. If your argument is that we shouldn’t use DDT to save lives because it might create another problem years down the road, then I just don’t buy it. 100,000 kids a year is an awful lot. Give me an effective alternative, because as it stands DDT is worth the cost.

    As for polarization, well, I doubt the Ugandans are playing those games. If they want to use DDT let them. They may even be able to feed an extra 100,000 kids if the EU buys their products and keeps their mouth shut.

  15. P.J. O’Rourke mentioned this very situation regarding DDT and death rates in one fo his books a few years ago. As usual, O’Rourke gets it right.
    And by the way, here is a novel idea. Allow DDT (even though it might have negative side effects), and then some enterprising individual will come along and invent a better mosquito killer. Farmers realize that this new invention is safer (and maybe quicker, more efficient, stronger, cheaper, and so on) and they decide to use this new invention/method instead of DDT. In other words, let the market figure it out. Free enterprise- I heard someplace that this works…

  16. joe, she was also convinced it was a carcinogen, which is what the book is remembered for (based on an informal poll of 18 grad students and one teacher, april, 2005, baruch college) 🙂

  17. joe

    I wouldn’t piss on Carson if she were on fire. And whatever one’s opinions on her research, her prescribed course of action is what is glaringly wrong. You are very wrong to value birds over people.

    DDT bans are murderous.

  18. JMoore,

    You could always go piss on her school.

  19. MP

    Oh dear God. Oh well, I’ve heard of worse names for schools.

  20. My understanding is that the reason why DDT started to affect birds so much was that it was used in massive amounts–far more than was really necessary to do the job. Used on the household level, DDT is effective and does not have the environmental problems.

  21. You beat me to it, JonBuck, that’s my understanding as well. Is there ANY evidence that DDT is harmful to birds’ eggs when it’s used in small amounts?

  22. I’m sure eliminating a whole class of predator won’t cause an outbreak of plague rats.

    I’m not, but I’m also unsure that it will at least in Uganda, since I don’t think it has many raptors to begin with, and most plague rats are urban, building-delling creatures that don’t suffer much from raptor predation.

    An issue I think people are overlooking: in terms of the harmful impact of agricultural use of DDT versus personal and dwelling use, how much agricultural use of DDT was due to pre-Silent Spring government mandates, and how much would farmers be expected to use if not forced? I don’t have anything to link to on the subject, but I have read a few descriptions of farmers of the period who had no use for hosing down their fields with DDT.

  23. Rats blow up good when you shoot them with a .22. More guns and DDT to Uganda now!

  24. There are indeed alternatives to DDT. And they’d be ideal for the Ugandans to use. Y’know, except for the the fact that they’re much more expensive. But, who cares if a Ugandan goes hungry to pay for an expensive and unnecessary chemical if it make environmentalist hand-wringers feel better.

  25. One of my professors once remarked that DDT was so safe for humans that the only sure way to kill a person with DDT was to bludgeon them to death with a bag of it. It is the pesticides very safety and effectiveness that led to its saturation use in the 40’s and 50’s that might have trigger decreases in some raptor species. People and farms were routinely drenched in DDT at exposure levels thousands of times higher than those used for modern pesticides.

    I think DDT became the bete noire of the environmental movement because it was so widely used and so commonly known. DDT had “brand recognition” similar to that of penicillin. It is even today, the one pesticide that most people can identify by name. When environmentalist needed to market their ideas about the risk of pesticides and other chemicals, DDT was the obvious poster-chemical.

    It probably didn’t help that by the late 60’s the patents for all formulas for DDT had expired. I strongly suspect that much of the funding for those advocating a ban on DDT came from companies producing DDT replacements that were still under patent. I suspect this dynamic may still be in play today.

    The great tragedy here is that the moderate use of DDT could save literally millions of lives while presenting a functionally zero ecological and health risk. People are dying to protect the reputations of “environmental” groups and their captive government agencies.

  26. Anti-DDT Environmental Activist: “I have slain the great chemical dragon! Verily, I am lord of all that is wholesome and green! Bow to me, for I have saved the world!”

    Reasonable person: “Dragon? You mean that kitten?”

  27. MP, there’s at least 5 Rachel Carson schools I can find in a quick Google search: RC Middle in VA, RC Elem. in Gaithersburg, MD, RC Elem. in San Jose, CA, and RC Elem. Language Center in Chicago, and Rachel L. Carson school in Flushing, NY.

    Somewhat interestingly, the Gaithersburg school is located in the Kentlands subdivision, a ‘neo-traditionalist’ community that we’ve discussed here before in regards to walkable communities.

  28. JMoore,

    You are very wrong to assume this is a zero sum game.

    OK, Eric .5b, rodent infestations in the fields that their DDT is supposed to protect. We’re trying to save kids from starving here, right? How about at least trying to find a way to put out a fire without starting another one? The determination not to use foresight is one of the odder aspects of the anti-environmental ideology.

  29. joe

    I never made that assumption. The value of the winner is infinitely greater than the value of the (potential) loser. They do not zero each other out.

  30. Oh, I see. You just don’t assign value to things that push for a solution you don’t like.

  31. joe

    huh?

    Seriously, I think I misunderstood what you’re getting at. What “things” pushing for what “solution” to what problem?

  32. Shannon:

    Exactly. DDT use was so intense and so widespread, it started to adversely affect the environment. In small amounts it could be veryy beneficial without the bad effects. But we didn’t need to use nearly as much DDT as we did. Irresponsible use made the chemical into the first poster child of radical environmentalism.

  33. Here’s a solution: Start using DDT in Uganda. It’ll probably take 5-10 years to wipe out the raptor population, at which point you’ve saved between a half-mil and a million kids. Then, take those children and put them to work exterminating plague carrying rodents. Even if most of them die in the process, you still come out ahead.

  34. OK, Eric .5b, rodent infestations in the fields that their DDT is supposed to protect. We’re trying to save kids from starving here, right? How about at least trying to find a way to put out a fire without starting another one?

    This issue is moot unless Ugandan farmers are using raptor-threatening levels of DDT. Are they?

    The determination not to use foresight is one of the odder aspects of the anti-environmental ideology.

    Where do you get any of that from what I wrote? The only thing I’m against are unreasonable regulations and perfect-as-the-enemy-of-the-good logic that says we must dissuade people from protecting themselves from disease before we can divine and solve any possible repercussions of the methods they would use.

  35. To use a line of argument Ron Bailey seems to like for other issues: since none of us grieve for or miss these 10,000 dead Ugandan children, they’re obviously not people at all. I don’t understand why you are all so upset. 😉

  36. …the only thingS I’m against…

  37. Even if most of them die in the process, you still come out ahead.

    Stretch, that’s so wrong I don’t know where to begin. Though I’m pretty certain you aren’t serious.

  38. Yes, Shelby, it was a joke, like Swift’s A Modest Proposal.

  39. the kentlands

    Been there. I don’t what theory they used for window dressing but it’s basically townhouses with little or no backyards. Kind of hard to manuever your car through it, too.

    Also kind of weirdly dense, given the fact that there’s horse farms about 1/2 mile down the road.

  40. Eric,

    “This issue is moot unless Ugandan farmers are using raptor-threatening levels of DDT. Are they?” No, not at the moment. It’s banned.

    Doug,

    That’s how all towns grow – a developed area near open space. You’d rather the farms were gone?

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