Page 4333 - Week 13 - Thursday, 17 November 2005

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MRS DUNNE (Ginninderra) (4.44): Like Ms Porter, I would like to dwell on the Third World today, which is something that is not normally the business of the Assembly. I would also like to dwell on the widespread prejudice the world has developed against the use of DDT as a means of eliminating malarial mosquitoes in the developing world. Mosquitoes are responsible for the death of some two million children each year, that is, about one child every 30 seconds; and 2.2 billion people across the world are affected by malaria, not in countries like Australia but across Africa, Asia and Latin America where, since the 1970s, dogma has gradually removed DDT from most malarial control programs.

The facts about DDT are generally agreed. It was first introduced in the 1940s, primarily in Europe and North America, where it was totally successful in killing the insects that spread the disease. It had other agricultural uses. It was so successful that the 1948 Nobel Prize for physiology or medicine was awarded to the Swiss scientist Paul Muller who discovered DDT’s insecticidal properties. So the developed world has benefited from its use and we do not suffer from malaria.

From the early 1960s, especially after the publication of Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring, DDT became a totemic bogeyman of the growing environmental movement. There was a kernel of truth in Carson’s accounts. In North America there were huge quantities of DDT used extensively and intensively, which did have a toxic effect on animals and did have some effect on the thinning of birds’ eggshells, especially raptors. But this was the result of industrial-strength spraying.

What is important about Carson’s book was not that it was primarily about health. Though trained as a scientist, Carson was primarily concerned with the aesthetics of nature and how beautiful everything was before human beings got in the way and spoilt it. The new pesticides, she excoriated, were, first and foremost, ugly.

The important thing to consider about Silent Spring was the strange collection of bedfellows who got together and saw the banning of DDT by the USA and the EPA in 1972. Despite extensive hearings that resulted in the conclusion by the EPA that the use of DDT under the regulations involved there does not have any deleterious effects on freshwater fish, estuarine organisms, wild birds or other wildlife and is not a mutagenic or teratogenic hazard for men—despite these facts—the EPA administrator, a Nixon appointee who, according to his own staff, did not attend a single hour of the seven-month hearing or read a single word of the transcript, took it upon himself to ban DDT, which is the only cheap, effective means of combating malaria.

I suppose the reason for that is pretty obvious. There is $400 million a year spent, mainly US money, on malaria programs across the world. Hardly any of that goes into killing or repelling mosquitoes; most of it goes into committees and meetings. As a result, as I have said, millions of people die every year across the world. And there is a great problem with DDT and the lack of its use in the Third World.

Today, I would like to table, for the information of members, a declaration of informed and concerned people about the effect of malaria on the world.

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