Stenholm, NRDC Spar on Atrazine

Wednesday, March 31, 2010 0 comments

Former Representative Charles Stenholm published an opinion piece in The Hill on March 23, questioning the administration's handling of energy and agriculture issues, including atrazine. NRDC responded, and spurred a response from Rep. Stenholm. See the exchange below:

Obama's energy and ag policies not selling in rural America 
By Former Rep. Charles Stenholm (D-TX) - 03/23/10 
It is convenient for some to see the results of the 2006 and 2008 elections as a mandate for the enactment of a more extreme progressive agenda.  In actuality, many of the Democratic victories in those elections were won in moderate, rural communities – places where traditional liberal policies are not popular.  

Recent polls show that only 23% of American voters consider themselves “liberal,” and I am confident this percentage is much lower in rural America.  The same polls tell us that some 77% consider themselves either “moderate” or “conservative.”  The fact is, all members are going to be facing a tough election cycle this year – and it will be made even tougher because the policies pursued by many of them have lost the approval of most moderate voters.  

This has certainly been the case with the government’s energy and agriculture policies. They may be red meat to the liberal base but they are crippling rural America and commercial agriculture.

Cap-and-trade legislation is perhaps the most publicized example of an extreme policy attack on the agriculture industry. Commercial agriculture relies heavily on energy prices, and this legislation threatened to inflate these prices across the board. When Congress dropped cap-and-trade due to lack of popular support, the EPA stepped into the breach and announced that it would begin regulating greenhouse gasses as a pollutant under the Clean Air Act. This is such a radical case of bureaucratic overreach that Congress is now telling EPA that it has stepped outside its legal authority.  Why did EPA attempt to do what they did?  To please a more extreme non-scientific viewpoint.

This same bureaucratic overreach has abandoned science to unnecessarily pursue new regulations on atrazine. Atrazine is an invaluable herbicide that has been in common use in commercial agriculture since 1959. It is estimated that atrazine saves corn farmers $28 per acre in input costs and yield advantages – the difference between staying in business and going bankrupt for thousands of farms across the country.

There are more than 6,000 studies on file supporting atrazine's safety and effectiveness, as well as international reviews by the World Health Organization, Australia, Canada, France, and the United Kingdom. The EPA recently completed a comprehensive study in 2006 and concluded that atrazine poses no risk to humans.  The review also showed that atrazine levels in water are well within the extraordinarily wide margins of safety set by the EPA.

Responding to pressure from the National Resource Defense Council, however, the agency announced last October that it would convene four new Scientific Advisory Panels (SAP) to re-investigate the herbicide.  At the SAP kick-off meeting in November, the scientific chairman remarked that the proceedings were “out of the ordinary.” I agree. And I would add that if farmers across the Midwest see their livelihoods threatened by activist regulation in the EPA, and Congress does nothing to stop it, voters in rural areas won’t be treating candidates too kindly in the coming election.

The same thing is happening on the West Coast, where policies enacted to please the extreme left in California have put the value of a fly and a smelt over the livelihoods of its own citizens and the billions of dollars generated by its agriculture sector. A similarly mis-guided policy was the closure of all USDA-regulated horse processing plants in 2007, which wrecked the market for horses and increased the number of unwanted horses to unsustainable levels. Some estimates put the number of potentially lost jobs in the next few years at 500,000. Congress could help stop the bleeding by reinstating funding for the USDA inspectors of horse processing plants.  Instead, members have proposed new legislation in H.R.503/S.727 that will further destroy the market for horses and jobs in the horse industry.  

I commend the Obama Administration and Congress for beginning to focus on creating jobs and ways to put Americans back to work.  Unfortunately the government’s current policies are job losers in rural America, pure and simple – not just for farmers, but everyone who either sells to them or buys from them. That’s pretty much everyone in America. Unless the Administration and Congress change course soon their electoral prospects may be derailed.

Former Rep. Charles Stenholm (D-Tex.) served 13 terms in the U.S. House of Representatives and was the Ranking Member of the House Committee on Agriculture.  He is a Co-Founder of the Congressional Blue Dog Coalition

On March 25, NRDC's Jennifer Sass Responded...
EPA foe Stenholm lobbies for maker of toxic chemical
By Jennifer Sass, Ph.D., senior scientist, Natural Resources Defense Council - 03/25/10
In a March 23 letter to The Hill, former Rep. Charles Stenholm (D-Texas) asserts that the weed killer atrazine is “an invaluable herbicide.” He goes on to accuse the Environmental Protection Agency of “bureaucratic overreach” because the EPA is fulfilling its statutory obligation to assess the health risks of this toxic chemical.

What the former congressman doesn’t mention is that the $11 billion Swiss company Syngenta — which sells atrazine to American farmers — paid Stenholm’s Washington law firm, Olsson Frank Weeda, $190,000 in lobbying fees last year alone, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Stenholm’s letter to The Hill, moreover, comes fresh on the heels of Syngenta’s latest press release, March 2, hailing atrazine as “safe to use.” Stenholm’s letter is largely a condensation of Syngenta’s own PR material.

Atrazine, in fact, is a known endocrine disruptor. It has been tied to poor sperm quality in humans, birth defects in humans and lab animals, and even sex change in lab frogs. An estimated 33 million Americans drink atrazine in their water, according to The New York Times.

This chemical can’t even be used in Syngenta’s backyard; the European Union has banned it. Instead, the company pays lobbyists like Stenholm to protect its use here in our country.

The NRDC has no financial interest in atrazine but has litigated on the EPA review process and has publicly advocated for phasing out atrazine use.

The EPA has an obligation to protect the American people from this hazardous chemical. And The Hill has a responsibility to inform its readers when we are being exposed to corporate propaganda of a Swiss chemical company.

Rep. Stenholm's Response:
Bad science means bad regulations for farmers
From former Rep. Charles Stenholm (D-Texas)
Jennifer Sass of the activist environmental group Natural Resources Defense Council has a history of getting her facts wrong, but her letter of March 26 (“EPA foe Stenholm lobbies for maker of toxic chemical,” in response to op-ed) contained a real whopper. Sass’s protest that the NRDC “has no financial stake” in its decades-long opposition to atrazine and other essential agricultural technology is laughable.

Sass likes to accuse everyone else of having ulterior financial interests, so let’s take a look at her own. The NRDC isn’t some struggling nonprofit. According to its 2007 tax return, NRDC revenues topped $100 million and it has net assets almost twice that amount. It raises that money by scaring the wits out of people with false claims, like the one’s she repeated in her letter about atrazine.

The most infamous example of that was the Alar scare, now known to be a black mark on the radical environmentalists, who drove apple farmers out of business on no scientific foundation whatsoever.

To promote that scare, NRDC hired leftwing PR strategist David Fenton, who later boasted, “We designed [the Alar campaign] so that revenue would flow back to the Natural Resources Defense Council from the public, and we sold this book about pesticides through a 900 number and the ‘Donahue’ show. And to date there has been $700,000 in net revenue from it.”

The fact is NRDC’s radical environmentalist agenda includes a fundamental hostility to America’s corn economy. During a recent EPA hearing, Sass herself, out of the blue, shockingly questioned “whether or not we need such overproduction of corn in this country … that’s for EPA to consider.” How revealing.

The purpose of writing my March 23 letter (“Obama’s energy and ag policies not selling in rural America”) was not aimed solely at the Obama administration, but also at Congress. When organizations like the NRDC succeed in their extremist agenda, they hurt our economy.

Just a few of the NRDC’s economy-killers include another slowdown of drilling for oil and gas on public lands, attempting to impose a cost on American business by regulating greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act, passing a cap-and-trade bill, putting a fly and a smelt ahead of food producers in California, and forcing a 50 percent downsizing of the horse industry. Our voices must be raised in opposition and sorted out by the political process.

The truth is the world’s population cannot be fed without the use of technology. The population is going to increase 50 percent by 2050. NRDC has every right to its anti-technology opinion. It can continue to cause wasteful taxpayer spending by studying and restudying every issue with the sole purpose of expensive delay and raising more money for their bloated treasuries.

But it’s exactly these types of outrageous attacks that I’ve confronted head-on as a family farmer, in my 26 years as a member of congress, to today in my current role as senior policy adviser with Olsson Frank Weeda.

All 300 million Americans need to know if the activists succeed, there will be a tremendous price paid by our grandchildren.

Federal Lawsuit Filed Over Atrazine

Thursday, March 11, 2010 1 comments
On March 8, 2010, St. Louis trial lawyer Stephen Tillery and his Dallas-based partner, the Baron & Budd law firm, filed a lawsuit in the Southern District of Illinois on behalf of 17 cities in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Ohio, and Missouri, asking Syngenta to pay for water filtration in their communities.
Plaintiffs in the case are water systems in Coulterville, Evansville, Farina, and Gillespie, and Greenville, Illinois; Creston, Iowa; Jasper, Indiana; Carbondale, Dodge City, Marion, Miami County, Oswego, and Plains, Kansas; Cameron and Concordia, Missouri; and Monroeville and Upper Sandusky, Ohio.

These systems are in compliance with drinking water standards. It is not about atrazine. It is about greedy lawyers duping the systems into thinking they will get something for nothing.

It should be noted that a similar federal lawsuit was dismissed in 1999 when the judge ruled that removing safe and approved levels of atrazine from drinking water was unnecessary.

Atrazine Is Safe

Atrazine is an herbicide farmers have safely used for more than 50 years. EPA has more than 6,000 atrazine studies in its files. It was after an exhaustive 12-year review of many of these studies that EPA re-registered atrazine as safe for use in 2006. EPA stated that the cumulative risks associated with triazine herbicides pose “no harm that would result to the general US population, infants, children or other . . . consumers.”

Atrazine has also been given a clean bill of health by the governments of Great Britain and Australia, as well as by the World Health Organization.

For 50 years, atrazine has been used safely in agriculture with no adverse effects on humans or animals.

Not surprisingly, media reports have preceded any actual legal receipt notifying the registrant of this action. Included with this update is the actual filing from the plaintiffs.

For the facts about atrazine, please go to

Illinois Class Action Complaint Against Syngenta

Tyrone Hayes... Back in the Spotlight Again!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010 3 comments
In the spotlight he craves once again, activist-scientist Tyrone Hayes released yet another study this week online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) on the effects of the herbicide atrazine on frogs. The USA Today online article referencing the study can be found at 

It doesn't appear that his flair for the dramatic has been replaced with the rigors of science in his latest work. Once again, you can expect many errors of fact, inaccurate citations of the scientific literature, and a failure to cite the extensive body of scientific evidence that would undermine his thesis.

It should be noted that Dr. Hayes’ previous work has been repeatedly and exhaustively examined by governmental regulatory agencies as well as independent scientists and found to not stand up to rigorous scientific scrutiny.

This would not be the first time Tyrone Hayes has published studies in a scientific journal which, upon investigation, have proven to be unreliable. After an exhaustive investigation into Hayes’ earlier studies, EPA published a 95-page white paper concluding that his study and other studies he cites are “scientifically flawed.” In reference to Hayes' earlier studies, the former Deputy Director of EPA’s Office of Pesticide Programs, Anne E. Lindsay, testified in 2005 that Dr. Hayes’ “data are insufficient” to support what he claimed to have found. 

EPA further complained that Dr. Hayes would not share his raw data: “[EPA] has never seen either the results from any independent investigator published in peer-reviewed scientific journals or the raw data from Dr. Hayes’ additional experiments that confirm Dr. Hayes’ conclusions.”

In response to Hayes' earlier allegations, however, the registrants conducted two, massive, state-of-the-art studies, based on newly developed EPA guidance. Every detail and raw data point of those studies were audited and inspected by the EPA. Both studies clearly and convincingly debunked the claims leveled by Dr. Hayes.

The PNAS Report contains two serious flaws that undercut its credibility: 1) the use of only one dose level of atrazine, when almost all studies used to assess the effects of substances for regulatory purposes are conducted at more than one concentration and 2) the failure to use a positive control – a basic requirement of this kind of study.

Hayes repeatedly cites other researchers incorrectly, distorting their findings in order to bolster his own claims. Hayes completely misrepresents the findings of Carr et al (2003) as supporting his thesis. They do not. On the other hand, Hayes fails to cite other studies, such as those conducted by DuPreez et al, that do not support his findings – something a reputable scientist would do. In fact, the DuPreez studies flatly contradict Hayes’s claims.

Perhaps most notable is that Hayes new claims are inconsistent with his previous work. For both Hayes’ earlier and current claims to be true would be a physiological impossibility. Either his current study discredits his previous work or his previous work discredits this study.

Furthermore, it should be noted that Tyrone Hayes has declared himself an activist and aggressively campaigns for the banning of the herbicide atrazine.  As such, the degree of scientific objectivity one normally expects in such publications is suspect. The fact that he is now using the NRDC to promote his study highlights the political nature of Dr. Hayes’ attacks.

Finally, the manner in which Dr. Hayes conducts himself has caused some to seriously question the soundness of his judgment. In 2009, in fact, Dr. Hayes statements and actions were so extreme that a member of the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry asked that Hayes be censured for his “inflammatory and libelous attacks,” adding that Dr. Hayes “demonstrate[d] that it is okay to present provocative conclusions without supporting data.”
Apart from all its flaws, if considered at all, this study must be considered in the context of the massive number of studies that have shown atrazine to be safe to use. Authorities around the globe have found no link between atrazine exposure and adverse health effects. The EPA, the Australian government, and the World Health Organization have all looked at atrazine’s effects on endocrine systems and given atrazine a clean bill of health.
The EPA estimates pulling atrazine from the shelves would cost corn growers $28 an acre in lost yields and substitutes, and the total negative impact on American agriculture would exceed over $2 billion per year.

No New Findings in Atrazine Study Promoted by Discredited Researcher

"Scientifically Flawed," "Insufficient Data," "Results problematic if not impossible" describe past critiques of studies done by Dr. Tyrone Hayes
Washington, March 1 - Alex Avery, Director of Research and Education at the Hudson Institute's Center for Global Food Issues, criticized new research by University of California Berkeley professor Dr. Tyrone Hayes alleging endocrine disruption in amphibians caused by the popular herbicide atrazine. Prior research by Dr. Hayes has come under scientific scrutiny and criticism by directors of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for lacking basic scientific standards and lack of transparency.

Avery pointed to comments by Anne E. Lindsay, former Deputy Director of EPA's Office of Pesticide Programs, testified in 2005 that Dr. Hayes' 'data are insufficient' to support his claims. She further noted:

" . . .[EPA] has never seen either the results from any independent investigator published in peer-reviewed scientific journals or the raw data from Dr. Hayes' additional experiments that confirm Dr. Hayes' conclusions."

The EPA's independent Scientific Advisory Panel "believed strongly that all of the field studies reviewed had serious flaws that limit their usefulness..." and "these problems render interpretation of results problematic if not impossible."

Lindsay's testimony further invalidated any legitimacy of Hayes' work, saying "all of the available information was scientifically flawed. None of [Hayes'] laboratory studies on atrazine were conducted in accordance with standard protocols.""

Avery's own thorough review of past research by Dr. Tyrone Hayes can be found at

"Dr. Tyrone Hayes has spent more than a decade allied with eco-activists peddling scare stories due to alleged health effects from atrazine. Yet despite his decade-long search and after more than 50 years of widespread use of this herbicide by farmers to minimize soil erosion while combating weeds, Hayes can offer no compelling real-world evidence that atrazine poses any appreciable risk to amphibian populations anywhere," Avery stated. "Aside from his own often-conflicting lab studies, other researchers have not seen the effects Hayes claims to have found. Replication is the gold-standard of science and Hayes' work has failed this test miserably."

"Finally, it should be noted that Dr. Hayes is an admitted anti-atrazine activist and has aligned himself closely with organizations including Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), organizations with a clear track record of campaigns against popular herbicides, large scale farm production and effective tools that have revolutionized agriculture today," Avery concluded.

Alex Avery is an expert in agricultural policy from a global perspective, with reference to both economic and environmental impacts. He has followed extensively the benefits of atrazine and has provided testimony before the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on many occasions during its re-registration process.