World Health Miscues

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), April 7, 2006 | Go to article overview

World Health Miscues


Byline: Henry I. Miller, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

As self-appointed regulator-wannabe of much of what goes on in the world, the United Nations has become a profoundly negative influence.

While its best known interventions - attempts to attain and maintain international peace and comity - too often are exercises in lowest-common-denominator diplomacy that progresses at a glacial pace, the U.N.'s essays into public health and environmental protection frequently are wrong-headed, self-serving and disastrous.

Underlying the U.N.'s deficiencies is the inability of its leaders to apprehend the relationship between wealth creation and public and environmental health - and between their own flawed policies and the inevitable failure of their ambitious Millennium Development Goals. The U.N. agencies' trumpeting supposed successes and promulgating lofty goals on World Health Day today serve only as a reminder of the organization's abject failures.

The complicity of many U.N. agencies in the unscientific, ideological and excessive regulation of biotechnology - also known as gene-splicing, or genetic modification (GM) - has prevented critical advances in agricultural and pharmaceutical research and development. Gene-spliced products could alleviate famine and water shortages for millions, and even lead to the development of vaccines incorporated into edible fruits and vegetables. But during the past decade, delegates to the U.N.-based Convention on Biological Diversity have negotiated and implemented a regressive "biosafety protocol" to regulate the international movement of gene-spliced organisms. A travesty that flies in the face of sound science, this regulatory scheme is based on the bogus "precautionary principle," which dictates that every new product or technology must be proven completely safe before it can be used.

Many other U.N. agencies have gotten into the anti-biotech act. A task force of the Codex Alimentarius Commission, the joint food standards program of the World Health Organization and the Food and Agriculture Organization, has singled out only food products made with gene-splicing techniques for draconian and unscientific restrictions that conflict with the worldwide scientific consensus that gene-splicing is merely a refinement, or improvement, over less precise and predictable genetic manipulation techniques that have been used for centuries. Thousands of greenhouse and field studies, as well as widespread commercialization in almost a dozen advanced countries, have shown that the risks of gene-spliced plants and foods are minimal; their benefits proven; and their future potential, extraordinary.

Globally, the adoption of gene-spliced crops reduces pesticide use by scores of millions of pounds annually (as well as the frequency of pesticide poisonings), and saves millions of tons of topsoil from erosion.

The 2001 U.N. Environment Program's Persistent Organic Pollutants Convention, which stigmatizes the insecticide DDT as one of the world's worst pollutants, is a regulatory atrocity. It places virtually insuperable obstacles in the way of the use of the chemical by developing countries, many of which are plagued by malaria, West Nile virus and other insect-borne diseases.

Not only do U.N. officials dismiss scientific evidence that demonstrates the effectiveness and relative safety of DDT, they also fail to take into consideration the inadequacy of alternatives or to appreciate the distinction between its large-scale use in agriculture (which has been discontinued) and more limited application for controlling carriers of human disease.

A complete prohibition on DDT usage is tantamount to withholding antibiotics from patients with infections; it is mass murder, and the U.N. is a co-conspirator in the deadly campaign against the chemical's use.

Another example of the U.N.'s willingness to adopt extreme positions occurred at last year's annual World Health Assembly, the policy-making body of the World Health Organization, at which the delegates adopted a resolution that supposedly reflects concern about potential bacterial contamination of powdered infant formula.

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