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EPA Re-evaluates Popular Farm Chemical

posted on October 9, 2009

Hello, I'm Mark Pearson. As federal officials debate the prospects for future economic recovery from what some are calling the "Great Recession," state governments across the country and in Rural America are feeling the financial pinch.

Government officials in Corn Belt states like Iowa and Nebraska announced fresh budget cuts this week – a move analysts predict could drastically slash state services including those for agriculture.

In Washington, the Commerce Department reported the U.S. trade gap narrowed unexpectedly in August to $30.7 billion on slightly higher exports and what some economists label a "cloudy" trade picture.

Imports of autos and auto parts reached their highest figures since late 2008, a notable one-time boost from the federal "cash for clunkers" program.

Crude oil imports fell by 9.4 percent in August as the price per barrel rose for the sixth consecutive month.

And a week-long rally on Wall Street moved the Dow Jones Industrials to its 2009 high.

Despite an uncertain economic future, farmers in Rural America are counting on an all-but-certain positive harvest this fall. Many record yields in the coming weeks were fueled months ago by a bevy of chemical inputs – each designed to maximize productivity and limit pests or invasive weeds. But this week, one environmental agency announced it will reevaluate the possible human health risks caused by a herbicide with a 50-year track record.


EPA Re-evaluates Popular Farm Chemical

The Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA, is re-evaluating the potentially harmful affects of a herbicide commonly used on farms for the past 50 years. EPA's newfound interest in the chemical atrazine comes just three years after the federal environmental watchdog relicensed the popular weed killer for sale in the U.S.

The announcement comes as combines across the country are beginning to roll on a potential record harvest of corn – a crop commonly supported by the farm chemical. Atrazine can be applied before and after planting to control broadleaf and grassy weeds. Industry experts say nearly 60 percent of the nation's corn crop is treated with the popular weed-killer. The herbicide also is used on a majority of the sorghum and sugarcane fields across the country.

But critics and EPA claim further scientific study of the chemical is necessary. Recent analysis blames atrazine farm run-off for some birth defects and reproductive issues. Syngenta AG has produced atrazine for 50 years and the agribusiness company says the 40 percent of the world's food supply would not exist without crop protection products like atrazine. Syngenta spokeswoman Sherry Ford told Market to Market, "If any regulatory changes were made, Syngenta would of course, meet all legal requirements. We expect that the EPA will make its regulatory decisions based on sound science, as it has for the 50-year life of the product. What concerns us most about regulatory changes that are not based on sound science are the impacts on the ability of farmers to provide a safe, abundant supply of food."

Under the Bush Administration, atrazine was re-licensed for public sale as recently as 2006. But the Obama administration and new EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson have pledged to reexamine various Bush-era decisions pertaining to chemical use.

EPA's Deputy Director of Pesticides, Steve Bradbury, told Market to Market this week that the decision to reevaluate atrazine comes after fresh scientific studies and water quality investigations by the New York Times. EPA officials claim the review could potentially lead to usage restrictions or a complete ban of the popular farming herbicide. But Bradbury cautioned against making any early predictions, saying: "The approach we are doing is to look at the scientific foundation with old data and the new data. We are not pre-judging the evidence."

EPA officials said any regulatory decision would NOT be reached before December 2010.


Tags: agriculture Environmental Protection Agency farmers news pollution rural sorghum