Pesticide Bans No Minor Mistake

Rosenberg’s article in today’s New York
addresses the devastating impact that misguided bans of the pesticide
DDT have had on people in developing nations. The New York Times presents
the DDT issue as simply a serious policy mistake. But it’s not simply a single mistake—it’s
part of a dangerous effort by environmental activists around the world to
deprive people of various life-saving technologies. The DDT case alone should discredit these
groups, yet they continue to have a harmful influence on public policy.

the problems DDT bans have caused, environmental activists have successfully
advanced a worldwide ban on DDT under the Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants
(known as the POPs Treaty). The
treaty has been ratified in enough nations for it to take effect, and the
United States Senate plans to ratify it soon. It allows for only limited use of DDT on a temporary basis, and it creates
serious regulatory hurdles that limit access in nations where people are dying
in droves. The POPs treaty will also ban
many other substances that might be useful in developing nations. In addition, international negotiators have
set up a process to ban even more substances in the future under the POPs

DDT is only one of many cases in which policymakers followed
dangerous advice from environmental activists. But there are too many other examples as well. For one, some of these groups have advocated
banning or restricting the use to chlorine—which disinfects water supplies and
saves millions of lives every year. Rather
than trying to undermine its use, the humane thing is to expand access in
developing nations where millions die from dirty water. Instead, after officials followed
activist advice in Peru in the early 1990s and reduced chlorination, thousands
of people died in a cholera epidemic which spread rapidly because of inadequate

Activists also impede use of biotechnology, which could help
feed starving populations. Their efforts
have even led public officials in developing nations to impede access to food donated
to starving populations because the food was developed with biotechnology. And environmental activists fight policies
that would allow developing nations to grow economically—the one thing that
will help the world’s poor overcome starvation and sickness in the long run.

It’s surprising that environmental activists have not been
completely discredited given their track record. Instead policymakers continue to follow their
advice. That is much more than a small
mistake—it’s an outrage.