Atrazine Scare Campaign Uses Same Junkscience, Playbook as Alar Scare

Thursday, May 27, 2010 0 comments
About the author: Jere White is the Executive Director of the Kansas Corn Growers Association.
Robert James Bidinotto wrote an
article this week on the spurious attacks on atrazine and highlighted the why consumers and farmers alike benefit from this herbicide. On behalf of the Kansas Corn Growers Association, I applaud Mr. Bidinotto on telling the story and history of the fear-mongering spread by the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

Mr. Bidinotto begins by recounting how NRDC essentially got the chemical growth agent alar, commonly used on apples, banned by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) after employing a campaign with actress Meryl Streep which “claimed that alar ‘might’ eventually cause thousands of lifetime cancer cases due to apple consumption by preschoolers. It was later revealed by Bidinotto that NRDC’s “junk science” used experiments which gave lab mice doses of alar that were “so outrageously high that 80 percent of the animals were poisoned to death.”

NRDC is attempting the same fear-mongering tactics with atrazine now and has successfully convinced the EPA to review the chemical for safety just six years after it was re-registered by the same government agency. Bidinotto points to another one of NRDC’s “junk science” reports released last September, Atrazine: Poisoning the Well. The report declares “that the chemical was ‘linked’ to all sorts of ‘potential’ health problems and raising the specter of unsafe concentrations in ground water,” writes Bidinotto. This is despite the fact that the EPA already employs a safety margin that limits atrazine concentrations in drinking water to no more than three parts per billion, “more than one thousand times below the threshold of any health concerns.”

Mr. Bidinotto is right on target with what NRDC is attempting to do. We must not allow consumers and the EPA to fall victim this junk science. Atrazine has been safely and effectively used for more than 50 years and banning it would only serve to harm millions of farmers around the country who depend on atrazine. In fact, there are more than 6,000 studies documenting the safety of atrazine from not only the United States but international bodies including the World Health Organization. The NRDC wants you to believe that their study is the only one that matters; but how can the one claiming atrazine is not safe be right when thousands of other studies contradict this claim? I encourage you to get the message out that atrazine is an important part of American agriculture and is needed to help farmers survive.

Atrazine: ‘Son of Alar’: The New Pesticide Scare Campaign

by Robert James Bidinotto
In 1989, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), a major environmental group, launched a nationwide panic over the presence on apples of alar, a chemical growth agent. On TV shows such as “60 Minutes” and “Donahue,” and in major women’s magazines, NRDC (with the aid of its expert consulting toxicologist, actress Meryl Streep) claimed that alar “might” eventually cause thousands of lifetime cancer cases due to apple consumption by preschoolers.

This carefully choreographed publicity stunt terrified parents, cost alar’s manufacturer millions, caused over $100 million in losses to apple growers—all while creating a fundraising bonanza for the NRDC.

The scare campaign was based on junk science—on experiments on laboratory rodents in which dose levels were so absurdly high that the animals were dying of simple poisoning. These tests were so shoddy that an independent panel of scientists convened by the EPA—called a Scientific Advisory Panel (SAP)—dismissed the findings as scientifically worthless.
Under political pressure to find something, however, the EPA ordered new tests on mice at dose levels that, again, were so outrageously high that 80 percent of the animals were poisoned to death. Not surprisingly, this overdosing produced the tumors the agency was looking for, and gave it the excuse to ban all use of the chemical.

I spent six months investigating this scam for a special report that appeared in the October 1990 Reader’s Digest. After its publication, many people—echoing the rock group The Who—concluded that “we won’t be fooled again” by environmentalist fear-mongers.

But now a new pesticide panic is underway. Once again, it is being incited by the NRDC, with additional litigation pressure from trial lawyers. Once again, the scare campaign rests on studies that amount to little more than “junk science.” This time, though, the target is an herbicide that plays a far more significant role in agriculture: atrazine. MORE

Dispatch: Re-re-evaluating Atrazine

Tuesday, May 18, 2010 0 comments
An editorial in today’s Wall Street Journal notes, “With the headlines full of oil spills and immigration, the Obama Administration's regulatory agenda is getting little attention. That's a mistake. Consider the Environmental Protection Agency's effort to revive an assault on atrazine, one of the oldest, most well-established agricultural chemicals on the market. Just this past week, the EPA held its third ‘re-evaluation’ hearing on atrazine.”

“This editorial is right on target,” says Dr. Ross. “It basically points out that the plaintiffs’ bar and anti-chemical, anti-business activists are working hand in hand yet again to target atrazine, which is the second most widely used herbicide in the U.S. This campaign is based on no science whatsoever, as it is already acknowledged both by the EPA and WHO that there is no evidence that current levels of atrazine in drinking water are dangerous to humans. Lawyers, of course, will still continue trying to extort money from companies that manufacture this chemical.”

“Keep in mind that the EPA and other agencies have now been staffed by activists,” says ACSH’s Jeff Stier. “The way democratic governments usually work is that there are watchdog groups monitoring regulatory agencies, but now the watchdog groups are running the show. It is as important as ever for us to keep pressure on these agencies and encourage them to prioritize science and consumers’ health interest. With support from Dispatch readers, we will continue to watch them and fight against unscientific activism.

Dr. Whelan adds, “Well, someone has to watch the watchdogs these days.”

Read the rest of this article here.

U of I Atrazine Study Shows Ban Would Hurt Midwest Producers

A study at the University of Illinois aims at showing how important atrazine is to crops in the Midwest. The study looked at 175 sweet corn fields in the Midwest.

“While the vast majority of our Kansas corn growers raise field corn, which is a feedgrain, this research is valuable because it helps us understand how vegetable farmers also rely on atrazine,” according to Jere White, Executive Director of the Kansas Corn Growers Association.

Researchers noticed atrazine was being applied to two-thirds of the sweet corn acres; row cultivation was used on about half of the sweet corn acreage. Here is what one of the researchers, Marty Williams had to say about the study:

"If the use of atrazine was phased out completely, our data indicate the greatest burden would be on those growers who rely on less tillage for weed control, have particularly weedy fields, have early season crop production, and grow sweet corn in rotation with other vegetables such as snap or lima beans," said U of I and USDA Agricultural Research Service ecologist Marty Williams. "Vegetable crops have fewer herbicide options and there tends to be poorer levels of weed control in those crops. When more weeds escape, more weed seed are produced, and crops succeeding those vegetables can have challenging weed problems."

"Atrazine is the single most widely used herbicide in sweet corn, applied to fields before crop emergence, after crop emergence, or at both times," Williams said. "Manufacturers of many of the other herbicides recommend tank-mixing with atrazine to increase their products' effectiveness."

Atrazine is currently the subject of yet another review by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) concerning the safety of the herbicide, despite numerous studies contradicting the need to question its safety. If you would like to read the rest of this study, “Significance of Atrazine in Sweet Corn Weed Management Systems” is published in the April-June issue of Weed Technology.

White also serves as chairman of the Triazine Network a nationwide coalition of grower groups who are represent growers in regulatory issues affecting atrazine and other triazine herbicides.

“EPA opened a special review of the triazine herbicides back in 1994 and gave it a clean bill of health in 2006. A media blitz by activist groups in 2009 spurred EPA to announce another round of science advisory panels on the herbicide,” White said. “Our goal is to make sure EPA continues to base its decisions on good scientific research, and not politics.”

Atrazine Remains in Jeopardy

Wednesday, May 12, 2010 2 comments
By Stu Ellis - May 9, 2010 at 5:30 am

Alex, I’ll take “What’s going on here? for $1,000.”

The answer is: “It has been used for 50 years without any problem, it makes food economical, and the EPA is searching for any reason to prohibit its use.”

“What is atrazine?”

“You’re correct for $1,000!”

So with that bit of televised repartee, you learn all about atrazine and find that it is in jeopardy. And coincidentally, once again. This popular and effective herbicide, used on 60% of the corn, 75% of the sorghum, and on 90% of the sugarcane in the US (according to Illinois Corn Growers Association) is again the subject of an investigation by the US Environmental Protection Agency. In technical farmer vernacular, it is called, “witch hunt.”

Atrazine was introduced to the fathers and grandfathers of today’s farmers in the late 1950’s and has been killing grass in cornfields ever since. It has not only made a lot of money for Syngenta, which makes it, but has also benefited every farmer across the Cornbelt who has applied it to his fields. That benefit is to kill unwanted vegetation which is competing with corn and other crops for moisture and nutrients. Weed specialists at all of the Land Grant Universities can provide many examples of how yields are diminished when weeds and grass are allowed to grow.

Take Marty Williams for example. He works at the University of Illinois under contract with USDA’s Agriculture Research Service on the improvement of sweet corn. He’s concerned about the loss of atrazine as a crop protectant chemical, which he says will diminish commercial sweet corn yields. That means less sweet corn, higher prices for consumers, and the use of greater quantities of other herbicides to control grasses that lesser amounts of atrazine would control.

The EPA is initiating a new review of atrazine. In 2006 it completed a 12 year long study of atrazine and found that it was not causing cancer as atrazine opponents had alleged. Atrazine does show up periodically in water supplies, and will be known to spike above the three parts per billion threshold set by the EPA. But those molecules of atrazine have not been shown to be carcinogenic, nor causing other maladies alleged by opponents. The World Health Organization has also looked into atrazine and has not found any reason to prohibit its use anywhere around the world.

Farmers are hoping that at some point the EPA does not succumb to pressure from opponents or from a political appointee with an agenda against crop protectants and remove atrazine from the market. Some pesticides and herbicides have been removed on prior occasions when reasonable scientific tests have shown them to be dangerous. However, when sound science has show a product to be safe, its removal from the market may have unintended consequences. Those frequently include the use of other chemicals in greater quantities than the original product, which is a consequence that environmental advocates would probably find a bit disconcerting.

If that happened, just imagine the next season of Jeopardy, when the contestant sees the answer: “The federal agency which tried to reduce pesticides, but actually caused more to be used, and raised consumer prices in doing so.”

The correct answer would be: “The EPA.”

Read the original posting of this article here.

WSJ on Atrazine - The War on a Weed Killer

Monday, May 3, 2010 91 comments
The EPA opens a re-re-evaulation of a safe chemical.
From the Wall Street Journal

With the headlines full of oil spills and immigration, the Obama Administration's regulatory agenda is getting little attention. That's a mistake. Consider the Environmental Protection Agency's effort to revive an assault on atrazine, one of the oldest, most well-established agricultural chemicals on the market. Just this past week, the EPA held its third "re-evaluation" hearing on atrazine.

Atrazine is the nation's second-most common herbicide. For 50 years it has been the farm industry's primary crop protector. In the U.S., the weed killer is used in the production of 60% of corn, 75% of sorghum and 90% of sugarcane.

Since atrazine's debut in 1959, 10 Administrations have endorsed its use. The EPA in 2006 completed a 12-year review involving 6,000 studies and 80,000 public comments. In re-registering the product, the agency concluded the cumulative risks posed "no harm that would result to the general U.S. population, infant, children or other . . . consumers." The World Health Organization has found no health concerns.

None of this has stopped the most politicized environmental groups, which oppose both chemicals and the idea of industrial farming itself. Organizations such as the Natural Resources Defense Council have spent years ginning up claims that atrazine in groundwater causes cancer, birth defects and other maladies. Manufacturers such as Syngenta have been required to conduct millions of dollars worth of studies investigating these alarmist claims. EPA staff routinely review the studies in atrazine's favor.

But now the Obama Administration has begun to fill such agencies with hires who are either sympathetic to, or even hail from, these activist groups. Consider the EPA's new head for toxic substances, Stephen Owens. As director of Arizona's Department of Environmental Quality, he so aggressively imposed an activist's climate agenda that the state legislature voted to strip his department of authority to enact greenhouse gas rules.

In August, the NRDC and the Pesticide Action Network began a new campaign against atrazine. In October, the EPA announced it would begin a re-re-evaluation of atrazine with a series of scientific panel meeting, and those are underway. The goal seems to be to lay the groundwork to ban atrazine.
Among the environmental lobby's new lines of attack is that some U.S. water systems occasionally show "spikes" in the chemical. This ignores that the EPA's drinking water standard for atrazine—three parts per billion—has a built-in, 1,000-fold safety factor. It ignores EPA findings that atrazine isn't likely to be carcinogenic to humans.

Also re-energized by the EPA's sudden interest in atrazine is, you guessed it, the plaintiffs bar. Tort kingpin Stephen Tillery, joined by Baron & Budd, filed a class action in 2004 against atrazine makers in tort-friendly Madison County, Illinois, but they've struggled even there. The EPA's re-re-evaluation is already helping the lawyers sign up more water-district plaintiffs—Mr. Tillery has filed a new federal class action—and it surely will provide ammunition in court.

There is an agenda here far more ambitious than getting one chemical. The environmental lobby wants more farmland retired to "nature," and one way to do that is to make farming more expensive. The EPA notes that eliminating atrazine would cost $2 billion annually in lost crop yields and substituting more expensive herbicides. Some farmers would go out of business or ask the federal government for more subsidies.

The environmental lobby also figures that if it can take down atrazine with its long record of clean health, it can get the EPA to prohibit anything. Sounds plausible. Between this and its determination to regulate greenhouse gases, the Obama EPA is proving itself a regulatory fundamentalist, with scant regard for good science or economics.