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May 19, 2005

The EU, DDT and Uganda.

An article about the EU, blackmail, the use of DDT in Uganda and trade sanctions. From the Wall Street Journal and behind the subscription barrier. I wonder if one of Margot’s minions, or perhaps even TEBAF herself, might care to comment on the way in which their actions are killing people?
Rather reminds me of Margot’s post on chemicals really.

The Real Bloodsuckers

May 19, 2005

DDT is often considered to be a relic of our industrial past -- but it also happens to be very effective at preventing malaria-carrying mosquitoes from transmitting the disease to humans. Although often eclipsed in the public eye by news about HIV/AIDS, malaria kills one million children and women each year and contributes indirectly to many more deaths. It also takes an often overlooked toll by incapacitating, for weeks every year, hundreds of millions of otherwise productive people.

A few months ago, though, EU representatives casually suggested to Ugandan ministers that if Uganda chooses to use DDT for malaria control, exporters will have to procure expensive equipment to ensure that their products do not contain any amount of residual DDT; otherwise they will face sanctions against their agricultural products. This negotiating technique is also known as blackmail.

Given the chemical's success at reducing the incidence of malaria in southern African nations, it is only natural that Uganda and other African countries are also considering using the chemical to battle one of their biggest human and economic scourges. "DDT has been proven, over and over again, to be the most effective and least expensive method of fighting malaria," said Ugandan health minister Jim Muhwezi. "Europe and America became malaria-free because of using DDT, and now we too intend to get rid of malaria by using it."

But thanks to the EU's not-so-subtle threats, many Ugandans have now second thoughts whether they can afford to save their people from dying. The country's $32 billion in annual agricultural exports to the EU are at risk.

As a result of this arm-twisting, two of Uganda's trade associations concluded that DDT ought not be used to control malaria. Producers of flowers -- 99% of which are not consumed -- contended that residual DDT would scare their consumers in foreign markets.

Uganda's coffee exporters followed suit. Paradoxically, coffee is a substance which contains hundreds of untested chemicals, many of which would probably be carcinogenic if consumed on their own in large doses. But (so far) no caffeine-deprived European bureaucrat has suggested that coffee production and consumption should be subject to the same chemicals and environmental treaty that regulates the use of DDT.

Interestingly, such threats were never waged against South Africa, Zambia and India, which also use DDT to control malaria. These countries already made the decision far too long ago for a threat by the EU to be meaningful. No European consumer has complained about agricultural produce from these countries, nor have their exporters been de facto forced into procuring expensive monitoring equipment.

Why is the EU pressuring Uganda to make this morally repugnant trade-off? First, it believes that it is more legitimate, more democratic, when it panders to environmental organizations, which in turn believe they represent the public. The EU works hand-in-hand with these groups to negotiate global environmental treaties, such as the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs), an environmental treaty which outlaws the use of 12 chemicals, including DDT, to suit their interests. An alliance of environment and "consumer" organizations has grand designs to regulate global trade, ostensibly the cause of all of our problems.

Through the use of biomonitoring schemes (in which a person's blood is tested to reveal -- shock! horror! -- tiny amounts of residual chemicals) and other agitation, Europe's environmental-consumer alliance alleges that human exposure to DDT (and numerous other chemicals) in any amount is harmful.

In Uganda, as in other countries, minimal amounts of DDT would be sprayed inside dwellings -- approximately one tablespoon of DDT is immersed in water, and sprayed on the walls. This program would be orchestrated by trained sprayers under intense government and international monitoring. The chemical would not be available in sufficient quantities to be used in any agricultural pursuit, nor would trace amounts of these chemicals find their way into flowers, coffee or other agricultural produce.

Luckily, at least some environmental groups seem to have abandoned their "zero-risk" approach. "If there's nothing else and it's going to save lives, we're all for it. Nobody's dogmatic about it," Greenpeace spokesperson Rick Hind said a few weeks ago, ahead of a meeting in Uruguay to negotiate the POPs treaty.

Meanwhile, ideological interests have intersected with economic interests. Both to protect European farmers and satisfy activist demands, the EU has threatened the use of trade sanctions to uphold its stringent environmental rules. This means that while the EU may import food from Uganda, it would simultaneously seek to export its overly precautionary regulations -- e.g., requiring a zero residual level of DDT in agricultural goods -- to the country.

Moreover, the POPs treaty is not unique in this regard. A number of global treaties have been negotiated -- including the Cartagena (Biosafety) Protocol, the Basel Convention and perhaps even the Kyoto Protocol -- with the implicit idea that countries that do not abide by the EU's precautionary regulations may face trade sanctions as an enforcement mechanism.

While such action is theoretically illegal according to World Trade Organization rules (to which both Uganda and the EU subscribe), there is currently little flesh on these bare bones of international jurisprudence. The WTO's Doha Round has much bigger issues to resolve at the moment, but the environment-trade conflict is likely to rear its ugly head in the future.

Of course, the arguments used to justify protectionist measures on environmental grounds are flawed through and through. Consumers in Uganda's export markets are unlikely to be harmed at all by the country's decision to use DDT because it is extremely improbable that the quantities of DDT used for indoor spraying would enter the food chain or the environment. Moreover, trade inevitably helps people in poor countries by improving incomes and living standards, such that Ugandans might be able to eradicate malaria altogether.

The EU is free to claim that its regulatory standards are part and parcel of its citizens' progressive lifestyle. Applied to poor countries such as Uganda, though, these standards force unacceptable moral dilemmas.

  • Ms. Okonski is sustainable      development director of the International Policy Network. Mr. Innis is      national spokesman for the Congress of Racial Equality.

May 19, 2005 in European Union | Permalink


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What the US started years ago, the EU continues today - in much the same manner. Millions of deaths per year on our hands. All the while we waste time, money and effort on fruitless pastimes such as Kyoto.

Posted by: Nik | May 19, 2005 10:33:03 PM

Is Rachel Carson still alive? Has anyone told her recently that she has the deaths of 30 million people on her hands?

Tim adds: Carson died decades ago. Breast cancer. Caused by "chemicals" probably.

Posted by: Chris harper | May 20, 2005 3:44:41 AM

I trake it the one pecent of flowers that are consumed are lotus's eaten here in Brussels

Posted by: Elaib | May 20, 2005 8:15:13 AM

Give over. Uganda is not a country too poor to afford malathion and it is not currently experiencing a malaria epidemic. DDT is only recommended by malaria experts in these cases.

If Uganda starts off using DDT to save a bit of money, then they are going to help breed DDT resistant mosquitoes that will spread to poorer countries. (Oh look). Stopping countries like Uganda from trying to cut corners on malaria prevention (the idea that Uganda could become "malaria free" by wall-spraying with DDT is ridiculous, btw) is exactly what the treaty was meant to achieve.

It looks to me as if the EUis being entirely sensible here; they are not being dogmatic about their regulations in the case of countries which use wall-spraying with little chance of residual pollution because they need to, but they are being a bit more heavy-handed with respect to countries like Uganda. It also appears to be the case that the EU and others are not convinced that Uganda is going to comply properly with the Stockholm Convention and take sufficient care to ensure that DDT is only used for wall spraying.

Look, DDT has a place in emergency malaria control programs in very poor areas. But the way some people go on about it you'd think it cured the King's Evil. There is a classic example above about Rachel Carson. You get up to "30 million" by assuming that every single malaria death in the last twenty years is attributable to DDT being banned in the USA. That's mental.

Tim adds: Yes, I have also read Tim Lambert’s critiques of that point of view and take much of it on board. However, from memory, one of his major points is that no one does ban the use of DDT for the limited indoor spraying decribed above. But now, apparently, someone does.

Slightly different thought. Who the fuck are the EU to be telling Uganda what they may or may not do in their own sovereign state?

Posted by: dsquared | May 20, 2005 8:26:12 AM

At my blog yesterday I noted that this is remarkably similar to the attempt to starve southern africans through the spectre of GM grain.


Posted by: Francis | May 20, 2005 8:33:05 AM

Out of interest, does anyone know how many people have died/suffered as a result of DDT being used? Are there any statistics?

Posted by: JohnM | May 20, 2005 11:58:44 AM

"We must have insect control. I do not favor turning nature over to insects. I favor the sparing, selective and intelligent use of chemicals. It is the indiscriminate, blanket spraying that I oppose." - Rachel Carson.

For the record, Carson would seemingly agree with the Greenpeace guy and oppose the EU stance.


Posted by: Judge | May 20, 2005 12:32:23 PM

There appears to be no real clarity about what "the EU stance" is here. As far as I can tell and shorn of other people's mischaracterisations, the "EU stance" is that if Uganda wants to spray DDT it needs to abide by the Stockholm Convention, and that the European Union has standards for the amount of pesticide residue it is prepared to tolerate in food sold in the EU. The rest of this is Chinese whispers.

Can anyone find an actual primary source setting out what the EU said, as opposed to reports of "threats" and articles from visibly hostile sources?

I'd also like some evidence that producers would have to buy "expensive equipment" to certify their food as DDT-free if Uganda started a wall-spraying program (which, I reiterate, is probably not the best malaria control program for Uganda anyway). This seems wrong to me; surely it would be more likely that there would be a single government program certifying exports? And this is the sort of thing that exporters and importers would need to do in any case; if someone is spraying pesticides around all over Uganda, you need some way of making sure your crops aren't contaminated.

By the way, Tim, there is no issue of "sovereignty" here. Uganda signed up to the Stockholm Convention last year. They have agreed to only use DDT in accordance with WHO guidelines and when locally safe, effective and affordable alternatives are not available. The rest is an issue of the EU's sovereignty over the public health standards of its food imports, and the private sector importers' own standards of how much DDT they will tolerate in food labelled "organic".

Guys you are being played for suckers here. As far as I can tell, a couple of Ugandan pols want to distract attention from their own failed malaria control program and try to start another one on the cheap and are using the "magic DDT" lobby as a smokescreen. By the way, do you realise that you're supporting a *compulsory*, *government-sponsored* DDT spraying program here? This isn't a matter of free choice; what the Ugandan government is proposing to do is to spray everyone's house whether they want to or not.

Posted by: dsquared | May 20, 2005 3:22:54 PM

Ahhhh, I see what's going on.

"[...]In recent years there has been an increasing trend in clinically diagnosed malaria cases reported in the Health Management Information System (HMIS) for governmental and nongovernmental organizations [NGO] health facilities from 5 million cases in 1997 to 16.5 million cases in 2003. This translates into a 2003 incidence rate of 0.98 malaria episodes/child/years in children under 5 and 0.64 in older patients (based on HMIS data alone).

The two major reasons for this increase are thought to be 1) the abolition of user fees in the public sector resulting in increased use; and 2) increasing treatment failures due to drug resistance.[...]"

So what we've got here is a failing public health service and a couple of demagogic local politicians trying to distract attention by latching onto the latest conspiracy theory. Apparently the DDT scare is all really got up by drugs companies who don't want Africans to know about DDT so they can keep selling their drugs.

Posted by: dsquared | May 20, 2005 3:34:32 PM

Rachel Carson was not a bad person. It's not her fault that she tried to protect animals by banning DDT. In fact, it's the government who should be blamed, they were the one's who banned it.

Posted by: bob | Aug 30, 2005 1:14:53 AM

By the way do you know that the same DDT you are still trouble shooting is already being used in parts of Uganda?!!!!!!
GIme t5he tools and I will finish the job of shwoing you how when and where it is being used by people who claim to have been sent by government.

Posted by: Edwin | Sep 13, 2006 10:33:37 AM

d.d.t lit. view

Posted by: hillary | Apr 23, 2007 10:26:42 AM

Read more about DDT in Uganda at http://www.protectafrica.wordpress.com ; there are viable alternatives to DDT. One of the reasons for using DDT cited by the Ugandan government is that it is cheaper than alternatives. Hardly a good reason to expose innocent people to long-term health problems (breast cancer, developmental delays in children).

A Ugandan court has recently halted the decision by the Ugandan government and its development partner USAID, to toxicly spray Ugandan children and their families.

Posted by: ProtectAfrica | Aug 8, 2008 4:34:56 AM

Read more about DDT in Uganda at http://www.protectafrica.wordpress.com ; there are viable alternatives to DDT. One of the reasons for using DDT cited by the Ugandan government is that it is cheaper than alternatives. Hardly a good reason to expose innocent people to long-term health problems (breast cancer, developmental delays in children).

A Ugandan court has recently halted the decision by the Ugandan government and its development partner USAID, to toxicly spray Ugandan children and their families.

Posted by: ProtectAfrica | Aug 8, 2008 4:36:02 AM