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Sunday, October 31, 2004

Pick Your Poison

Atrazine works as a pesticide to ultimately increase crop yield with a concomitant reduction in petroleum usage. Apparently, farmers have used the stuff for several decades. However, the Minnesota state legislature has toyed with the idea of reconsidering its use due to health considerations. The makings of your typical health vs productivity decision, with implications for energy depletion thrown in.

I happened across the Atrazine issue while watching Tyrone Hayes of UC-Berkeley testifying before a Minnesota state legislative hearing recently (here). Hayes talked up a very convincing argument, but with curiously no rebuttal from the other side. Pharyngula blogged Hayes' findings last summer.

Elsewhere, not everyone agrees with Hayes' conclusions. This article points out that frog mutations occur quite commonly, historically long before atrazine came into existence. I can almost side with this reasoning, as I have previously read that the tadpole/frog's hypersensitive skin picks up poisons (and mutagens) much more readily than reptiles and mammals. This recollection of mine probably coincides with the original frog mutation reporting of several years ago, initially hyped up when schoolchildren collected some weird three-legged specimens.

Another odd aspect of these studies is the statistical slant that they assume. Granted, it takes a lot of time to collect samples, but it seems some ultimate resolution will come out of it. I hate it when the studies don't quite achieve the slam-dunk level of control necessary to avoid controversy.

To add some spice to the outcome, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has been showing cold feet on addressing the issue. They essentially uninvited Hayes as keynote speaker before getting hammered by the usual suspects.


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