Cocoa buyers stand against DDT use in Uganda

Stephen Milloy can’t even herd his own cats — why should we listen to him?

While Milloy proclaims junk science and loudly impugns the reputation of a dead woman (Rachel Carson), it’s his business colleagues who demand Uganda avoid DDT, not environmentalists.

New Vision in Kampala reports that a local council has rejected DDT use, and told Uganda’s government the reasons why:

Bundibugyo district council has rejected the Government’s programme of indoor residual spraying of DDT.

During a council meeting last Wednesday, the councillors argued that the anti-malaria project would scare away organic cocoa buyers.

According to the LC5 chairman, Jackson Bambalira, Olam and Esko, the cocoa buyers, threatened to stop buying the produce if the area was sprayed with DDT.

“We know that malaria is a number one killer disease in our district but we have no option. The Government should look for another alternative of containing malaria by supplying mosquito nets but not spraying DDT.”

You and I know that indoor residential spraying (IRS) shouldn’t harm crops in any way, even if DDT is the pesticide used. Can the cocoa growers and buyers be convinced DDT won’t get into their products?

How many stories like this have to appear before the anti-environmentalists stop their unholy campaign against Rachel Carson? Complaining, falsely, about evils of environmentalism doesn’t save anyone from malaria, especially when it’s not environmentalists blocking the campaign against the disease.

8 Responses to Cocoa buyers stand against DDT use in Uganda

  1. Pat Frank says:

    Ed, I’m not trying to impugn Rachel Carson’s work, nor her memory. Nor am I arguing in favor of any unholy industrial campaign, or in support of Malloy’s references. All of that is beside the point.

    My point was about the consequences of the relentless demonization of pesticides, and the unintended but deliberative consequences of the resulting organic food fetish. The word ‘toxic’ is the standard and almost unconsciously rerflexive apriori addendum to ‘chemical,’ these days. It’s applied with insistent moralizing emphasis to anything synthetic, as though naturally-occurring chemicals were specially benign.

    I don’t know Jay Ambrose, and so on your testimony whatever I wrote is only accidentally consistent with whatever he wrote. However, I wonder if you think that the truth of the message is determined by the identity of the messenger. Is it a refutation of what I wrote merely because Jay Ambrose perhaps wrote something similar? Should I be ashamed merely because of that supposed similarity?

    Are we talking about science here, or about political getevenism?

    The point is not about Ambrose, or Malloy, or even about Rachel Carson. It’s about organic produce buyers putting pressure on tropical farmers to not use household DDT against mosquitoes because that use might leave detectable residues on cocoa or tobacco that would obviate an “organic” label.

    That fastidious rejection of DDT traces is the fault of the continuing demonization of pesticides, especially chlorinated pestides (and all halogenated chemicals for that matter) by environmental groups, with the directly resultant fashion for organic food.

    I was wrong about there being a requirement to label food with pesticide resudue levels. But the “organic” label is used as a surrogate for ‘pesticide-free,’ and determines much of the relevant buyer choice. If accidental DDT residues, even at the ppb level, disallow the organic label, then pressure is put on the farmers by the corporate organic food buyers, because the end-use organic-buying public will not accept uncertified non-organic food.

    So, it’s not about Rachel Carson, or Steve Milloy, or Jay Ambrose, or even about liberal vs. conservative. It’s about a fastidious and unnecessary food fetish, promoted and abetteed by environmental propaganda, that has a real and tragic impact on poor farmers.

    And for your question about who has an interest in keeping Africans poor, sick, and diseased, how about people who want to force a large and rapid decrease in human population. Are such people more likely to be evil industrial conspirators, or earth first radicals?


  2. Ed Darrell says:

    Yeah, I’ve heard the complaints.


    EDF’s position for years has been that Rachel Carson’s IPM program was a good idea. Now the business people agree. The slams against Rachel Carson are completely unjustified on any basis. She was right about the science, and she was right about the ways to use pesticides. It’s an unholy campaign that industry waged against her in 1962, and even moreso now that she is dead. Milloy’s organization EDF did not argue for complete bans of all traces, so far as I can find, but instead lamented that DDT is everywhere now, even in the Arctic and Antarctic.

    There is no requirement for any labeling of any pesticides in any tobacco product anywhere. Such information is a tightly held secret and has been for more than 60 years in the U.S. and elsewhere. As a pragmatic matter, there is no way the public could find out about DDT residues in tobacco unless the tobacco companies released it for their own purposes.

    Also, I’m unaware of any labeling required in any nation for pesticide residues in any product. USDA and EPA have requirements for residues, but there is no requirement that the residues found be reported to the consuming public, and especially not on labels. We don’t even get the information on (harmless) insect parts in our ketchup. (Here’s a link to Title 40 and the pesticide regs — if I’m wrong, let me know:

    Jay Ambrose, an old news editor who writes columns slamming environmentalists, showed up here a few months ago making the same argument you’re making, that the environmental groups had a point once, but went on too long. I challenged him to produce information that environmental groups have in fact been campaigning against DDT use. It’s been at least four months, and we’re still waiting. The charges are false. If the false charges don’t originate with Milloy and his cast of disinformation colleagues, they only too gleefully give them more attention than they are due, and hide as best they can the facts. I suspect one could find the Pesticide Action Network behaving badly — but I haven’t. The charges that environmentalists stand in the way of modest use of DDT in IRS in an IPM program are certainly untrue now, if they were ever true.

    Instead, it’s the business interests, for their own nefarious reasons. There is no logical reason for their actions.

    If there was an irrational crusade against DDT, it’s dead. There is now a nasty, cruel, irrational crusade against Rachel Carson and rational care for the environment. Claiming that campaign as fair vengeance is ugly and wrong. Plus it delays real help for malaria victims.

    To beat malaria, we need to improve health care, and expand it. The campaign against Rachel Carson delays that aid, especially when it convinces anyone that all we need to do is “unleash” DDT. DDT is no panacea, never has been.

    Who has an interest in keeping Africans poor, sick and diseased? Not environmentalists.


  3. Pat Frank says:

    Ed, tobacco and cocoa buyers don’t want tiny DDT residues on their products because the buying public are afraid of those residues, and won’t buy products with detectable residues in them. The tobacco and cocoa interests are merely following market demand.

    The reason the buying public don’t want tiny DDT residues in their cocoa and tobacco (or in their cereal or their tea or anywhere else) is because environmentalist organizations like the NRDC, the EDF, Greenpeace and others have spent decades demonzing synthetic pesticides, as such, and insisting that there should be no detectable residues using the best available technology.

    Those residues have to be listed on the labels of the products sold in retail markets, where consumers avoid those that have any level of pesticide. The market place speaks, the corporate produce buyers listen, and the environmental groups are to blame for the inflamed avoidance atmosphere that now prevails.

    It’s no good those groups acting innocent now, of any responsibility for the culture of irrational fear they spent 30 years so assiduously encouraging.

    Rachel Carson was right to call attention to the dangers following the large-scale use of DTT as an agricultural pesticide. She was not right about the use of pesticides in general, or about the differential toxicisty of synthetic pesticides as opposed to natural ones. I’m all for integrated pest control. I was on the Integrated Use Task Force of our local Sierra Club many years ago. But the crusade against chemical technology has long since passed the rational limit. It’s become destructive, and in the case of indoor use of DDT, the crusade has produced negligent homicide against the tropical poor. And that immorality can be laid right at the feet of the many environmental groups that deliberately and consciously propagandized lurid exaggerations and encouraged irrational fears and extremism.


  4. Ed Darrell says:

    And, Pat: Do check out Milloy’s site, and tell me if you think such citation abuse is really necessary — I mean, check his citations carefully:


  5. Ed Darrell says:

    We’re talking the same stuff, Pat. The POPs Treaty specifically authorizes the use Uganda proposes. Even Environmental Defense, the group that first won a lawsuit stopping spraying of DDT (outdoors, of course), has been pressing the Bush administration for years to let it happen.

    My point is this: Rachel Carson was right: Bush and the conservatives who rail at environmentalists ought to get out of the way and help fight malaria, instead of constantly intervening on the side of the mosquitoes and parasites.

    And then they should stop lying about environmentalists as they do when they keep arguing they can’t spray DDT because mean old environmentalists won’t let them.

    IRS (indoor residual spraying) is exactly what is proposed in Uganda. Why won’t the tobacco and cocoa interests let it proceed?

    Sniping at Greenpeace and ED and Rachel Carson do nothing to benefit anyone, and it misleads innocent but interested bystanders.


  6. Pat Frank says:

    I mostly agree with you Ed. But your story is about indoor spraying against mosquitoes, not about agricultural pesticide use. Cocoa purchasers are preventing the control of indoor mosquitoes, against malaria, which the Ugandans agree is the greatest killer of people, just to prevent detectable drifts of DDT (probably at low ppb levels) outdoors onto crops. That is urban food fetishists in Europe killing poor people in Uganda.

    In “Should DDT be Banned by International Treaty?” by C.F. Curtis and J.D. Lines (2000) Parasitology Today 16(3), 119-121, they say that, “the extent of harm caused by the use of DDT indoors for malaria control is not clear; in particular, it seems unlikely to be an appreciable source of DDT in food chains and a link between DDT and ill health in humans has not been convincingly demonstrated.”

    They also point out that the benefits (minuscule) of a total ban are likely to be to the wealthy, and the costs (large) will be borne by the poor. I think that’s immoral. If you like, I can send you that paper later this evening.


  7. Ed Darrell says:

    I agree that hydrocarbons are ubiquitous. I agree that chlorinated hydrocarbons are quite common. I do not agree that DDT is no particular burden. The research plainly shows that DDT used as an insecticide out of doors quickly finds its way into the food chain, quickly multiplies to astounding levels up the trophic chains, and damages the reproduction of especially the top predators in estuarine food chains. Among other evidence that tends to conclusivity is the fact that reproduction of ospreys, eagles, pelicans and falcons recovered in almost exact correlation with the decrease in residual DDT and DDE in the tissues of those birds.

    DDT wasn’t banned because it causes cancer and kills humans. It was banned because it is toxic to good insects, toxic to disease vector predators, and otherwise almost absolutely uncontrollable in the wild.

    That’s all still true. Discover noted more than 1,000 studies done since Carson’s book verify her research reports, in 1962.

    Uganda is having difficulty getting agreement to use DDT even in Rachel Carson’s reduced amounts, in an integrated pest management program. Two groups complain: Some people had their villages sprayed 40 years ago, and all the fish in their local streams died. People starved. Some of those people, and some of those villages, complain. The second group: Agricultural exporters, particularly tobacco farmers. Seems the EU has purity rules, and the farmers are especially fearful that the DDT will be abused. The loudest outcry, odd as it is, comes from tobacco farmers. Tobacco smokers don’t want to smoke DDT-laced tobacco. Go figure.

    DDT is less scary today only if used as Rachel Carson said it should be used. Rachel Carson was made of chemicals, and some of them went awry and killed her. Let’s not take chances we don’t need to take.


  8. Pat Frank says:

    Is the concern of environmentalists enough to establish environmental credibility?

    Bruce N. Ames and Lois Swirsky Gold (2000) “Paracelsus to parascience: the environmental cancer distraction” Mutation Research 447, 3–13.

    Abstract: “Entering a new millennium seems a good time to challenge some old ideas, which in our view are implausible, have little supportive evidence, and might best be left behind. In this essay, we summarize a decade of work, raising four issues that involve toxicology, nutrition, public health, and government regulatory policy. (a) Paracelsus or parascience: the dose (trace) makes the poison. Half of all chemicals, whether natural or synthetic, are positive in high-dose rodent cancer tests. These results are unlikely to be relevant at the low doses of human exposure. (b) Even Rachel Carson was made of chemicals: natural vs. synthetic chemicals. Human exposure to naturally occurring rodent carcinogens is ubiquitous, and dwarfs the general public’s exposure to synthetic rodent carcinogens. (c) Errors of omission: micronutrient inadequacy is genotoxic. The major causes of cancer (other than smoking) do not involve exogenous carcinogenic chemicals: dietary imbalances, hormonal factors, infection and inflammation, and genetic factors. Insufficiency of many micronutrients, which appears to mimic radiation, is a preventable source of DNA damage. (d) Damage by distraction: regulating low hypothetical risks. Putting huge amounts of money into minuscule hypothetical risks damages public health by diverting resources and distracting the public from major risks.”

    As you know, Ed, science is never written in stone. From today’s perspective DDT is not such a bad environmental actor, as it seemed to be in 1980. But too many people glom onto work that supports their ideology, and never let it go no matter what later more complete research shows.

    Some time ago, I checked into the natural production of chlorinated hydrocarbons. It turned out they’re ubiquitously produced in nature, in soils and in the oceans. Sea weed puts out millions of tons of complex halocarbons every year, and vents them into the atmosphere. DDT does not particularly burden the environment. So, careful local use of DDT is probably warrented, and one could view purchasers and users of organic produce as endangering poor farmers with their urban food aesthetics.


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