Herbicide hoopla

Arguing over atrazine

By
April 11, 2012

In its January/February issue, Mother Jones magazine ran a feature, "The Frog of War," detailing what author Dashka Slater dubbed “one of the weirdest feuds in the history of science.” The two sides in the fracas: scientist Tyrone Hayes, whose work shows that atrazine, one of the most popular industrial herbicides on the market, does serious damage to frogs, versus Syngenta, the Swiss agribusiness that manufactures atrazine.

At issue for humans: whether their drinking water, as often happens in agricultural areas, has been contaminated by atrazine. So far, no human — unlike the frogs Hayes studies — has undergone an involuntary sex change as a result of drinking atrazine-laced water. But it’s still a matter for concern, which is why representatives in the House keep trying to follow Europe’s lead by introducing legislation to ban atrazine.

After Slater’s article appeared, her colleague Tom Philpott began reporting on its strange fallout: the attacks on Hayes by Jon Entine, a pro-chemicals activist. Philpott picked apart Entine’s arguments and background. But a month later, Entine was back on Philpott's radar again, when Entine used his Forbes.com op-ed pulpit to denounce the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

In his op-ed, Entine published a memo about bisphenol A (BPA) purported to come from the NRDC; when it was revealed that Entine had written the memo himself, Forbes unpublished the op-ed and dropped Entine from its roster of writers.

But the Entine extravaganza did not prevent the FDA from refusing to ban BPA at the end of March. And those poor frogs? Philpott reports that new science shows amphibians suffering odd effects as a result of exposure to glyphosate, the herbicide better known under its Monsanto brand name of Roundup.

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