December 29, 2010
by Alex A. Avery
Government overreach led to November's voter revolt and congressional shake-up, but one wonders if President Obama is listening and will rein in his own administration, particularly the Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA has been the progressive agenda's vehicle on climate change, pesticide regulation and other orders totaling 29 major regulations and 172 major policy rules, far outpacing previous presidential administrations. The more challenging legislative road ahead could lead the EPA to an even more strident path in its regulatory overreach. This could spell bad news in particular for American farmers, when you consider the shaky foundations on which the EPA builds its regulatory cases. Why does the government increasingly seek to quash the technologies that make the American farmer so phenomenally productive? Thank Rachel Carson. Children are still taught the environmentalist's 1962 book, "Silent Spring," showing DDT thinning out bird eggshells and leading to the American bald eagle's extinction. Despite thorough debunking of the "Silent Spring" morality tale, Carson's pioneering scare tactic has been endlessly replicated against one useful chemical after another. The result is toxic policy that be counted in the needless deaths of millions of Africans from malaria, countless preventable illnesses, and more threats today against the livelihoods of farmers across America. You can learn more about this in my "Pesticide Activism: Fifty Years of Panic and Propaganda." With DDT demonized, the EPA's political leadership found it easy to ban it as a possible human carcinogen. (In fact, a 1997 Harvard medical study found no link between DDT exposures and cancers of any type.) Carson's formula was repeated with greater success against Alar, a plant-growth regulator used to manage apple ripening. The anti-pesticide activists at the Natural Resources Defense Council mounted a campaign in the 1980s to force the EPA to conduct an absurd experiment of pumping mice with doses of a breakdown product of Alar that were more than 100,000 times the highest estimate of a preschooler's daily intake. This dubious experiment set the basis for the NRDC and CBS-TV to negotiate an exclusive deal to hype the Alar scare story. The NRDC's public relations adviser said: "The campaign was devised so that revenue would flow back to NRDC from the public. The group sold a book about pesticides through a 900 number on the 'Donohue' show and to date 90,000 have been sold." The NRDC and its media allies prospered from the panic, but many apple growers went out of business, costing growers $250 million. These sums are small compared with the current campaign against atrazine, an herbicide that corn growers have safely used for more than 50 years. Nationally, the loss of atrazine would cost nearly 50,000 jobs and as much as $5 billion. Once again, the facts don't match the hype. Scientists from Maryland to Germany are unable to replicate harmful findings about atrazine. The EPA itself, before it was taken over by President Obama's political appointees, had just concluded a dozen years of study reaffirming the safety of atrazine. Fortunately, decades of scare campaigns and unnecessary regulation have finally seemed to awaken a sleeping giant. Just before the midterm elections, there was a farmer rebellion on Capitol Hill when farmers and their congressional representatives grilled the EPA's "regulatory assault" on useful pesticides and agriculture. In the new Congress, we can expect more hearings and investigations into the agency's affairs. If President Obama wishes to extend his residence at the White House in 2012, he should bypass activist hype, look at sound science, listen carefully to the heartland's farmers and regulate some of his own administrators.
Alex Avery is director of research and education for the Hudson Institute's Center for Global Food Issues.
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