Fight Zika with Smarter Pesticide Rules

Last month, Congressional lawmakers set aside partisan disagreements and agreed to dole out $1.1 billion to combat the spread of the mosquito-transmitted Zika virus. Yet much of this money may be wasted if local vector control officials don’t have the freedom to deploy the necessary tools to fight Zika and other dangerous mosquito-transmitted diseases.

Some people have suggested that lifting the U.S. ban on the pesticide DDT could solve the problem quickly. If only it were that easy. DDT may play a role, particularly in the developing world, but ultimately, combatting insect borne-diseases is a complicated task that will require application of a wide range of technologies and activities.

In the United States, local vector control experts are best positioned to decide the mix of technologies and approaches for each community. But these officials often have their hands tied and cannot as effectively do their jobs because of misguided federal regulations. Some of these regulations denying access to useful pesticides that could be safely deployed, while policies inhibit the development and deployment of new pest-control technologies. In addition, regulatory red tape makes vector control more expensive than necessary, while making programs less effective.

As I detail in a new paper on the topic, policymakers should take a number of actions to address these real problems. They should:

  • Revise the Food Quality Protection Act so that Environmental Protection Agency pesticide registrations are based on rational, risk-based standards and the best available science, making it profitable for companies to develop and register more public health pesticides.
  • Reform the Clean Water Act (CWA) to exempt vector control from having to obtain CWA permits before deploying pesticide products that EPA has already registered safe for those uses.
  • Reform FDA laws that create needless delays in the development and deploying of vaccines.
  • Reduce regulatory red tape associated with the use of genetically modified mosquitos and other technologies that could render dangerous mosquito populations sterile, thereby greatly reducing the potential for disease transmission to humans.

It may be relatively easy for members of Congress to throw money at this problem, but they could do much better by reforming misguided laws that simply get in the way of real solutions.

For greater details and other issues, see my paper Regulatory Hurdles Impede Zika Control.