Atrazine Remains in Jeopardy

Wednesday, May 12, 2010
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.


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