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Fearmongering Over Syngenta's Atrazine Herbicide More Harmful Than Atrazine Itself


Reevaluating the safety of atrazine is unnecessary, costly, and the last thing the world's farmers need.

Tomorrow, the EPA will begin reevaluating atrazine, the agricultural industry's primary crop protector for the past 50 years.

Syngenta Crop Protection (SYT) sells atrazine under the AAtrex brand name, and it's a component of scores of other pre-mix herbicides such as Monsanto's (MON) Lariat, DuPont's (DD) Leadoff, and Dow's (DOW) Cadence.

The new review comes after certain studies showed hormonal changes in frogs after being exposed to atrazine, but, as P.J. O'Rourke writes in All The Trouble In The World -- The Lighter Side of Overpopulation, Famine, Ecological Disaster, Ethnic Hatred, Plague, and Poverty, there are also questions regarding the health effects of "repeatedly filling lab animals with the maximum tolerable amount of anything."

Kansas Corn Executive Director Jere White notes that, "Currently, atrazine is applied on more than half of all US corn acres, two-thirds of sorghum acres, and nearly 90% of all US sugar cane acres. Mixed with another herbicide, atrazine enhances the performance of the original product and helps to control a variety of herbicide-resistant weeds. With positive safety reviews on record by the EPA, Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, and the World Health Organization, this important chemical has a proven safety record."

The EPA estimated that not using atrazine would cost corn farmers $28 per acre (and that was in 2003), sugar cane crop losses would total between 10% and 40%, and the overall cost to US farmers would exceed $2 billion annually.

Moreover, University of Chicago economist Don Coursey estimates that corn production losses alone from an atrazine ban could lead to between 21,000 and 48,000 jobs lost.

Not only is atrazine believed to be safe, Professor Dean Kopsell of the University of Tennessee's Plant Sciences Department found that, when exposed to a mixture of atrazine and another herbicide, mesotrione, levels of lutein and zeaxanthin -- carotenoids linked to a reduced risk of age-related macular degeneration -- increased by up to 15% in certain varieties of sweet corn.

Then there's the worry that atrazine can seep into groundwater, which is measured in parts per billion.

Now take a moment to consider phosphoric acid, a caustic chemical that the CDC discourages handling without a full-face supplied-air respirator -- something to consider next time you pop open a can of Coca-Cola (KO), which contains 11 to 13 grams of phosphoric acid per gallon of syrup.

Those who attempt to avoid any chemicals of any sort in any food whatsoever may be disappointed to learn that 99.99% of the chemicals that people eat are natural.

This is also addressed in O'Rourke's book, which quotes Cal Berkeley biochemistry Professors Bruce Ames and Lois Gold as saying, "It is probable that almost every plant product in the supermarket contains natural carcinogens."

O'Rourke continues:

In an attempt to bring some perspective to toxin scares (or maybe just as a cruel stunt), the American Council on Science and Health publishes a pamphlet called "Natural Carcinogens in Your Holiday Menu." The mixed nuts contain aflatoxins, among the most potent mutagens known. More mutagens, called furan derivatives, are found in the onions. Lima beans, when chewed, release cyanide from cyanogenic glucosides. (Personally, even as a child, I'd suspected as much.) There's carotatoxin, a nerve poison, in carrots. Mushrooms come with hydrazines, many of which are animal carcinogens. Other animal carcinogens -- quercetin glycosides and hydrogen peroxide -- lurk within tomatoes, as does tomatine, which interferes with nerve transmission. Human carcinogens, psoralens, taint celery. Broccoli is host to goitrin and glucosinolates, which harm the thyroid. And the potato is a regular Chernobyl among vegetables. Within the dread spud we find solanine, chaconine, amylase inhibitors, and isoflavones -- which, respectively, cause gastrointestinal-tract irritation, harm your nervous system, interfere with digestive enzymes, and mimic female sex-hormone activity.

He then reminds us that potatoes also contain arsenic.

"These are just the foods that are good for us, the foods we're supposed to eat more of," O'Rourke explains. "I haven't even mentioned things like alcohol, a known divorcogenic which interferes with the body's car-wreck defenses."

Guy's got a point, no?
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