If Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback is correct, European scaremongering is delaying the re-introduction of DDT into Uganda. And this will have deadly consequences.
Sen. Brownback (R-Ks) has just returned from a Ugandan health fact-finding mission. He told me that EU trade policies "will lead to an increase of deaths among pregnant women and children in Africa. DDT was used to rid Europe and the U.S. of malaria. Now it can't even be sprayed indoors in limited settings to save vulnerable lives in Africa. God help us."
Ugandan farmers are being told that they could lose millions of dollars in fruits and vegetable exports into the European Union (EU) market when the Ugandan government imports DDT for the prevention of malaria. European protectionism is odious at the best of times, but this alleged EU threat borders is particularly egregious, and should be pre-emptively challenged by Ugandans through the WTO. There is no evidence that any of the DDT, which could be used to save thousands of babies from malaria, would ever reach any agricultural products; and even if it did, there is no evidence of any harm from DDT in produce, even at relatively high doses.
Robert Karyeija, the principal health inspector in the Ugandan agriculture ministry, said the EU--the largest importer of Uganda's agricultural products--was considering suspending buying its produce for fear of DDT intoxication. In an interview with the New Vision newspaper last Thursday in Kampala, the capital of Uganda, he said:
"The European Retailers Produce working group for Good Agricultural Practice is considering suspending exportation of our agricultural products as soon as the government imports DDT."
Mr. Karyeija explained that this would be catastrophic not only to the private sector, but also to government revenues. Apparently Uganda could lose up to $23 million annually if EUREP-GAP, an EU exporters body, suspends buying local products because the consumers in Europe and America want organic products. EU importers claim to be concerned that DDT would spill over to agricultural fields, especially in rural areas, due to poor application of indoor spraying, making the eventual harvests inorganic. This is ridiculous.
First, the notion of organically produced food is misleading, since much European organically produced food uses inorganic pesticides, such as copper sulfate (and technically DDT is an organic chemical anyway). Second, there is no evidence that anything but tiny trace amounts (possibly not measurable) of DDT could ever reach crop production (the concern about DDT was when it was used in tons in farming, not ounces in malaria control, where most of that already small amount ends up absorbed into walls). Third, and most importantly for any WTO challenge, there is no evidence of any harm from trace amounts of DDT in crops, so boycotting Ugandan produce because of DDT contamination is untenable under WTO rules.
But the concern about DDT is being tacitly re-inforced by lack of unity in the Ugandan health department over using DDT. A decision was made over the summer by the Ugandan Ministry of Health to use DDT procured by the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. But insiders I spoke with, who wish not to be named, say that overseas pressure to drop DDT use means the decision is on hold. Most aid agencies, whose historic actions have largely been ineffectual and often counterproductive, tend to want to stay under the radar. Therefore, the advice they give is predicated on annoying the fewest people, so they shy away from advising the use of insecticides since it upsets green groups who vociferously oppose nearly all man-made chemicals.
After complaints about the Global Fund's early actions by Senators Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) and Russell Feingold (D-Wisc.), the Fund has improved. As long as this continues and the Congressional oversight remains, especially the Senators' calls for outcome measurements, then it should continue to expand its work in Africa. Governments could increase funding to deliver what Africans want (drugs, insecticides and other resources), rather than what western aid agencies want to give them (mainly seminars, educational programs and consultants). If they do the former then we might start to see a reduction in the worst tropical diseases.
Unfortunately, the greens and Europeans with their well-oiled media machine are likely to win this battle. Ugandan agricultural officials will point out that alternative insecticides and bed nets are an option, (even though they don't work as well), and that Uganda cannot afford to lose exports. The health department, which is so reliant on aid, will only push its donors so far, and given the resistance from USAID, WHO and others on the use of insecticides, they will likely crumble.
For the thousands of Ugandan children whose lives could be saved, but who have no voice in this debate, it will be a tragedy. But just another tragedy on top of so many others perpetuated by European greens and the farm lobby.
Roger Bate is a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.