THE BIG DEAL ABOUT ATRAZINE

atrazine_infographic_fightepa_urlAtrazine.  This funny-sounding word might not sound like anything that pertains to your life, but it affects you more than you know.  The EPA is currently investigating and is considering further regulating atrazine, which could be costly for farmers, and eventually, consumers like you and me.

But what even is atrazine, you ask?  It can be a little tough to explain, so I’ll break it down the best that I can.  The portions in bold should help things make sense.

Atrazine is a herbicide that is applied typically to crops with weed issues.  There are many different ways to control weeds in farming, but for farmers, it’s a cheaper to purchase and apply this herbicide than it is to buy fuel and till up the weeds (pull them up by loosening the soil). Also, the continuous tilling of the weeds can add compaction to the soil levels deep underground, as well as cause erosion on the top soil.

Farmers need a way to feed the world safely and economically.  Atrazine helps immensely with that.  While tilling weeds under is often considered the “safer, chemical-free” option, it’s often worse for the soil in the long-term. 

atrazinePreviously, atrazine has been investigated thoroughly by the EPA and other government regulatory agencies for its environmental impacts and safety risks, and it has been approved for continuous use.  Seriously, the EPA means business when it checks these things out.  From water safety studies to human and animal cancer studies, the EPA and other agencies like it have put atrazine through the wringer to make sure it’s safe and sustainable to use on our farms and on our earth.  Except this time around, the EPA is backtracking its endorsement.

It’s like if a friend had really great shoes that you wanted to borrow, and she said you could.  Every time you ask her, she says yes.  You use the shoes, take the utmost care of them, and return them in the condition you got them.  Every time, she approves and is pleased with the condition of her shoes.  However, for some reason out of the blue, when you ask her this time, she says she’s not sure.

cost-of-no-atrazineThis pullback and restriction of atrazine use can have some costly effects on farmers and consumers alike.  According to a 2012 University of Chicago study, farming without atrazine could cost farmers up to $59 an acre.  With the average family farm being roughly 231 acres, that adds up to over $13,500 in one year.

For the average family farmer, that can mean they can’t afford their child’s college tuition.  This cost will eventually get passed on to the consumer, meaning higher prices for you at the grocery store and the gas pump. Yikes.

So what can we do to show the EPA that we’re ready to approve atrazine?  Share this article and inform your friends about atrazine.  Call your congressman or send them an email letting them know you approve atrazine for farmer’s use.  

Together, we can keep an affordable, safe, and sustainable food supply for the world.

molly_novotney
Molly Novotney
University of Illinois

FRIDAY FARM PHOTO: ILLINOIS STATE FAIR

IMG_8861This past Tuesday (August 16) was Ag Day at the Illinois State Fair. If you’re familiar with the history of the fair, you’ll know the fair’s primary purpose was for agriculture. People brought their animals from across the state and to compete in showing. For instance, the competition would decide which dairy cow had the best features and characteristic of the ideal dairy cow that would best carry on the breed. These competitions still exist today and have varying criteria based on the category/animal.

Since then, the Illinois State Fair has evolved to include a non-farming audience with different games, rides, concerts and foods. While no one is discounting the glory of a funnel cake, Ag Day was created to give a spotlight to the fair’s original intention. This year, IL Corn joined other agriculture organizations, farming families, and government leaders to showcase the industry while also engaging the non-farming community to learn about issues agriculture faces today.

Among the events:

 

 

  • 8-16-16rauner

    Government officials including Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner and U.S. Congressman for Illinois Cheri Bustos showed their support by meeting with industry leaders.

 

 

 

  • IMG_8851Illinois FFA members interacted with government and industry officials to talk shop as they learn more to become our nation’s next agriculture leaders.

 

 

Check out more from our Facebook, where we livestreamed an interview with Illinois FFA members and heard from IL Corn leaders.

ATRAZINE IMPORTANT TO JOBS, RURAL AMERICA, AND CROP PRODUCTION

Although we’ve discussed Atrazine a few times throughout the short life of this blog, I’m not sure we’ve ever just come out and said how important the herbicide is for the American farmer.

So now, if you’re interested, you can find out exactly what atrazine’s impact is on jobs, rural America, and crop production.

The Agricultural Retailers Association is hosting a news conference to discuss the latest research on exactly this issue.  With panel members from the University of Wisconsin, Iowa State University, and the University of Chicago, the information shared is sure to leave an impression.

WHEN: Thursday, Feb 17, 2011 *RESCHEDULED – DATE AND TIME TBA*

WEB CAST: http://www.visualwebcaster.com/event.asp?id=75913

WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION RECOMMENDS LESS STRINGENT GUIDLINES FOR ATRAZINE IN DRINKING WATER

Originally published in Pesticide and Toxic Chemical News

The World Health Organization has increased its drinking water quality guideline for atrazine from 2 parts per billion to 100 ppb — a far less stringent level than EPA’s current drinking water standard of 3 ppb.

Atrazine proponents say the new guideline reaffirms the safety of atrazine, which EPA is currently re-evaluating. But a long time critic of the herbicide says WHO failed to take into account infants and young children’s special vulnerability and higher exposure per body weight than adults.

The new 100 ppb guideline will be included in the 4th edition of WHO’s Guidelines for Drinking-water Quality, to be published in 2011. The purpose of the guidelines is to assist regulators and policymakers in the development of national standards.

“The WHO has no regulatory force at all, and the drinking water guidelines are merely recommendations,” Jennifer Sass, senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council, tells Pesticide & Toxic Chemical News via e-mail. “They are often adopted by countries that do not have the resources to conduct their own assessments.”

Sass says while both WHO and EPA rely on the same study to achieve their guideline and standard, respectively, EPA has attempted to address the vulnerability of infants and children, “albeit not to our satisfaction,” by applying the 10X Food Quality Protection Act safety factor.

Furthermore, to arrive at its drinking water guideline, WHO assumes a 60kg adult drinking two liters of water a day, with 20% of total daily intake of atrazine coming from drinking water. But kids drink more water per body weight than adults, Sass says, noting EPA has a default water intake rate of one liter of water per day for a 10kg child.

However, others say EPA should take a page out of WHO’s scientific playbook.

“Here in the U.S., activists, insisting that atrazine levels at or even below 3 parts per billion are dangerous, have led EPA and the American taxpayer on an expensive wild goose chase,” says Triazine Network Chairman Jere White, referring to what he believes is a politically motivated atrazine re-evaluation. “The U.S. EPA should follow the lead of the World Health Organization and continue to rely on sound science to evaluate atrazine,” White adds in an Oct. 5 statement.

James Lamb, director and principal scientist at consulting firm Exponent’s Center for Toxicology and Mechanistic Biology, says EPA’s current drinking water standard for atrazine appears to be too severe.

“These new findings from WHO suggest that the EPA should re-evaluate the current 3 parts per billion standard in order to bring it into line with the latest scientific data,” he says in the statement.

LAWYERS AIM TO HARASS, INTIMIDATE GROWERS IN ATRAZINE ISSUES

Sometimes, individuals and groups decide to stand up for something. In the case of many crop producers and the associations that represent them, they have decided to stand up for atrazine. Atrazine is a vital herbicide that is under attack by environmentalists, activist researchers, activist media and slick trial attorneys. These well-financed groups worked together last summer to garner enough attention to spur an unscheduled re-review of atrazine by the Environmental Protection Agency.

While farmers use atrazine in smaller and smaller concentrations, it is still an important tool to control weeds, especially in environmentally friendly “conservation” farming practices. For example, using no-till, an increasingly popular conservation farming practice, farmers leave the previous crop stubble on field and plant the next crop in that stubble. This practice reduces runoff and holds on to nutrients and other stuff that helps crop grow in the field. Atrazine’s ability to provide residual weed control makes no-till an option for many farmers. Without it, they’d better grease up the old plow. I read an apt quote on Twitter recently—“If EPA says bye-bye to atrazine, can we get cultivators rolling fast enough?”

Looking at the information above, it’s no wonder farmers and farm organizations are standing up for atrazine in a big way. It’s no wonder that they work with atrazine’s major manufacturer, Syngenta, to support this product.

But recently, many of those organizations have been served with subpoenas from big time trial attorney firms who are hoping to net millions of dollars in judgments from the state and federal court systems. These subpoenas require grower associations to turn over volumes of information to the courts regarding their growers, including all correspondence related to atrazine, Syngenta and even the Kansas Corn Growers Association.

The subpoenas come down to one thing, clear and simple: bullying. We can’t imagine what kind of useful information they hope to find by looking through membership records, leadership programs or who paid for the ice cream at a farmer’s meeting. But the threat of legal harassment might make an organization or an individual think twice about standing up for a product like atrazine.

Since the beginning of the Special Review of the triazine herbicides including atrazine in 1994, our growers have wanted one thing: a science-based outcome through EPA. Is throwing trial attorneys and frivolous subpoenas into the mix a game changer? Will farmers be intimidated and lose their will to support atrazine? The trial attorneys forgot one thing—farmers are uniquely independent. They stand up to wind, hail, drought, floods, pests and roller coaster markets on a regular basis. Slick attorneys are scary for sure, but we don’t scare that easily.

Jere White, Executive Director of the Kansas Corn Growers Association, Kansas Grain Sorghum Producers Association and is the Chairman of the Triazine Network, a nationwide coalition of growers and grower groups concerned with regulatory actions surrounding the triazine herbicides including atrazine.

MY THOUGHTS ON AN ATRAZINE LECTURE BY TYRONE HAYES

After more than 6,000 studies have been presented to the EPA indicating its safety and after its approval (once again) by the EPA in 2006, atrazine is undergoing yet another EPA review.

I felt priviledged to attend a lecture by one of the scientists in the EPA’s back pocket on this issue, Tyrone Hayes of University of California Berkeley, last week as he presented his research on the Illinois State University campus. The lecture was attended by what seemed to be mostly professors on campus with quite a few college students thrown in. Together, we all learned why Hayes believes atrazine causes chemical castration, homosexuality, and hermaphroditism.

His claims seemed far fetched to this farm girl. But who am I to argue with science, right?

Except experts agree that this isn’t really science. In 2002, eight American, Canadian and South African researchers essentially discredited Hayes’ methology, concluding, “Like the laboratory work, the field studies suffer from major inadequacies.” And in 2005, the EPA’s own Deputy Director of Office of Pesticide Programs testified that “all of the available information was scientifically flawed. None of his laboratory studies on atrazine were conducted in accordance with standard protocols.”

Knowing this ahead of the lecture left me wondering while he spoke:

• Why is Illinois State University interested in one person’s laboratory work that no other scientist can reproduce?

• Farmers have been using atrazine for over 50 years. If castration and hermaphroditism are real, substantiated problems, wouldn’t we know that by now? Wouldn’t that work be verified by other scientists or a theme of rural dwellers having these issues be noticed over the past 50 years?

• Why isn’t Dr. Hayes conducting this research on some species that actually live in Illinois or even North America? To date, his research focuses only on African reed frogs which are not found in our area. Also, what about research on other animals? Some researchers have reported that frog hermaphroditism has been found around the world for decades – long before the introduction of atrazine.

And then, I have to wonder that if I can question these things during a fifty minute lecture based only on my limited science facilities, what else could be lacking when a qualified scientific researcher reviews the work?

Sadly, we’ll never know. As we’ve noticed a bit too much lately, EPA bureaucrats don’t care much for qualified scientific review.

By: Lindsay Mitchell
ICGA/ICMB Marketing Director