DDT is a remarkable insecticide, used effectively for 70 years in the battle against insect-borne disease, particularly malaria. But it is perhaps better known as a cause of environmental harm, even though most of the allegations made against it were false (for a detailed history of these issues, see here.)
DDT polarizes debate. Probably less miraculous than some of its conservative supporters would like to believe, and far less harmful than most liberal environmentalists and militant bloggers assert, debates around DDT are driven largely by other issues.
The problem is that it is not just at the fringes where DDT use is undermined. The center of the debate, where DDT’s use hangs by a thread, is dominated by vested interests opposed to DDT. But DDT still has considerable value for malaria control, and endemic countries are calling for continued freedom to use DDT.
Perhaps some bloggers think that these health ministers are idiots or tools of vested industries or have other financial reasons for asserting DDT’s importance. Of course, largely irrelevant commentators are one thing, but when the UN chooses to mislead the public about DDT and promote alternatives which are, frankly, useless, then making a reasonable case for DDT and other insecticides is harder. My colleagues, Don Roberts and Richard Tren, have just published a worrying paper and AEI has a Health Policy Outlook on the topic today. Both of these papers tell different aspects of the disgraceful story of the purposeful exclusion of data conflicting with an ideological goal, that of ridding the world of DDT. The results of carefully manipulated studies are promoted while other data are ignored or even suppressed, and all at taxpayer expense. The fraud is even more egregious when its objectives are to achieve political and administrative goals detrimental to the practice of public health.
Fraudulent claims are being made by officials at the highest levels of the United Nations Environment Program, the Secretariat of the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants, the Global Environment Facility, and the environmental health units of the World Health Organization and Pan American Health Organization, to seize authority over what is done to control malaria, to promote anti-insecticide propaganda within malaria endemic countries, and to justify global DDT elimination by 2020.
Importantly, the fraudulent claims are not being publicized or promoted by legal entities or professionals with legitimate malaria control knowledge and expertise. Officials of global environmental agencies and organizations claim that there is no further need for DDT, asserting its global elimination can be completed by 2020. In line with these claims, the Secretariat’s 2007 plans proposed a budget of $150 million for stopping DDT production. The successful elimination of DDT through false propaganda will add to a long history of fraudulent claims causing harm to public health, and far into the future will cause irreversible harm to the health and welfare of many people.