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Another look at atrazine

Several years ago, a scientist at a land-grant university was discussing weed control options in corn. “It doesn’t really matter which herbicide you use as long as it contains atrazine,” the expert said.

Atrazine has to be one of the most successful herbicides ever. The compound has been used on millions of acres of corn, and farm organizations and chemical companies have spent millions of dollars and man-hours defending it.

Although atrazine is “already the most comprehensively evaluated crop protection product in the agency’s history,” as one observer said, EPA has just announced plans to conduct yet another review.

This is occurring even though it just completed another multi-year, regulatory study that concluded “atrazine is not likely to cause cancer in humans” and does not affect the reproductive development of frogs and other amphibians.

The latest study was announced in the Oct. 7 Federal Register. The agency called for written comments by Oct. 23 and unveiled its review plan on Nov. 7, a process that normally takes months rather than days. (The speed of the announcement was amazing considering how slow EPA has been moving on product registrations.)

Crop protection chemical and farm organizations say the action raises red flags about the agency’s new directions. “EPA has traditionally employed a science-based process and, in the case of atrazine, sound science has governed regulatory decisions on the product for five decades,” said Jay Vroom, CEO of CropLife America.

“This has concluded 20 years of more or less continuous review through re-registration, special review, tolerance and reassessment and eight Scientific Advisory Panels. And the next round of registration review is scheduled to begin in just a few years anyway.”

Veteran EPA watchers say the impetus for the review is coming from the Natural Resources Defense Council, the organization that created the Alar scare only to claim later that its representatives never said it represented an immediate danger.

But the NRDC isn’t the only group that’s been beating on the doors at EPA and the makers of atrazine aren’t the only farm chemical manufacturers who say they’ve been victimized by the shift in direction at EPA.

In recent months, dozens of so-called experts on food production have been writing articles in the national media and producing documentaries making claims about production agriculture and pesticides that have little basis in fact. Efforts by farm groups to counter the propaganda have largely been lost in all the clamor by “local food” advocates.

A recent study by sociologists at the University of North Carolina and Northwestern University found that many people who have come to accept certain “facts” will continue to hang on to those beliefs long after they’ve been discredited. The study dealt with the 2004 election, but it could just as easily apply to environmental issues.

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TAGS: Management
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