NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


May 5, 2010

With the headlines full of oil spills and immigration, the Obama administration's regulatory agenda is getting little attention.  That's a mistake, says the Wall Street Journal.  Consider the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) effort to revive an assault on atrazine, one of the oldest, most well-established agricultural chemicals on the market.  Just this past week, the EPA held its third "re-evaluation" hearing on atrazine. 

Atrazine is the nation's second-most common herbicide: 

  • For 50 years it has been the farm industry's primary crop protector.
  • In the United States, the weed killer is used in the production of 60 percent of corn, 75 percent of sorghum and 90 percent of sugarcane.
  • Since atrazine's debut in 1959, 10 presidential administrations have endorsed its use.
  • In 2006, the EPA completed a 12-year review involving 6,000 studies and 80,000 public comments.
  • In re-registering the product, the agency concluded the cumulative risks posed "no harm that would result to the general U.S. population, infant, children or other . . . consumers."
  • The World Health Organization has found no health concerns. 

None of this has stopped the most politicized environmental groups, which oppose both chemicals and the idea of industrial farming itself, says the Journal:  

  • Organizations such as the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) have spent years ginning up claims that atrazine in groundwater causes cancer, birth defects and other maladies.
  • Manufacturers such as Syngenta have been required to conduct millions of dollars worth of studies investigating these alarmist claims.
  • EPA staff routinely review the studies in atrazine's favor.  

In August, the NRDC and the Pesticide Action Network began a new campaign against atrazine.  In October, the EPA announced it would begin a re-re-evaluation of atrazine with a series of scientific panel meeting and those are underway.  The goal seems to be to lay the groundwork to ban atrazine, says the Journal. 

There is an agenda here far more ambitious than getting one chemical banned, says the Journal.  The environmental lobby wants more farmland retired to "nature," and one way to do that is to make farming more expensive.  The EPA notes that eliminating atrazine would cost $2 billion annually in lost crop yields and substituting more expensive herbicides.  Some farmers would go out of business or ask the federal government for more subsidies.   

Source: Editorial, "The War on a Weed Killer," Wall Street Journal, May 3, 2010. 

For text: 


Browse more articles on Environment Issues