RoundUp Ready Round-up is Ready: (a) Atrazine and (b) Big Organic

Environmental Science/Studies in Review, Volume 1

Here is a rundown of some recent pieces of note w/r/t environment, science, and technology -- specifically, a few on atrazine and hermaphroditic friogs, and then a few on Big Organic (farming and planting and eating and such).

From the August issue of Harper's comes an article (not available on-line - I'm just saying, maybe go read it at a newsstand, like one of those guys who stands there reading select articles and learning for free) "It's Not Easy Being Green: Are weed-killers turning frogs into hermaphrodites?" by William Souder . The crux of the story is that Syngenta had Hayes do research on their atrazine proiduct, and he found out things they ended up not liking, and so, surprise, big fight going on. It's a strange little article about endocrine disruption, atrazine, hermaphroditic frogs, and Tyrone Hayes, the Cal-Berkeley researcher who's been leading the work on this issue. It's odd because it seems like maybe half an article, like it's the set-up for a much longer piece. Souder introduces a bunch of stuff, and gives the standard "I'm a monthly literary-cultural magazine and so here's some dabbling into the biography of the subject in the middle of an article about something else, so now you don't know *what* it's about" interlude, but then it just doesn't seem to reveal anything or leave us anywhere firm.

So, check out some of Tyrone Hayes's work itself: First, he replies to his scientific critics with "There is No Denying This: Defusing the Confusion about Atrazine," a really interesting scientific paper, published in BioScience in 2004 (December 2004 / Vol. 54 No. 12, to be exact). You don't get many full-on rebuttals like this at that level. The intro:

"Recent studies from my laboratory, showing the chemical castration (demasculinization) and feminization of amphibians by low but ecologically relevant concentrations of atrazine in the laboratory and in the wild, prompted a critical response from atrazine's manufacturer, Syngenta Crop Protection, and Syngenta-funded scientists. A careful analysis of the published data funded by Syngenta, and of several studies submitted to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) by the Syngenta-funded panel for data evaluation, indicates that the data presented in these studies are not in disagreement with my laboratory's peer-reviewed, published data."

And then, if you're really gung-ho about reading blogs and then linking to scientific articles, here's some of the actual research article from Environmental Health Perspectives, "Atrazine-induced hermaphroditism at 0.1 ppb in American leopard frogs : laboratory and field evidence - Rana pipiens". (Tell me how it turns out. I haven't finished it yet. Ooh, I hope the one guy gets that ring he was really trying to find!)

One last, on Hayes and atrazine: a more accessible article from the Chronicle of Higher Education about Hayes and the problems he had with Syngenta's influence on his research.

Here's one by Amanda Griscom Little, at Grist, who writes about the glacial pace of Chemical Safety reform. (The topic here is related to the issues Hayes brings up and Souder discusses in his article.)


Now, a few on Big Organic, which has been taking some of my reading attention lately, as it pertains to my own science studies research (about the shifts from organic to mechanistic philosophies of nature; but enough about me): Michael Pollan, with a piece at Mother Jones on Organic Farming or Local Farming Or Sustainable Farming whatever it is, since those aren't necessarily - or often -- the same. This is about a local, organic, conservative Christian, libertarian, environmentalist farmer in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, excerpted from Pollan's new The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals. Check it out.

Here it is as reviewed, with two other books, by Steve Shapin in The New Yorker a few months ago. I have to say, the ending of the review really takes an odd turn, and one that maybe comes from the fact that Shapin probably (apparently?) didn't actually read all of The Omnivore's Dilemma.

And here's an article unrelated to the Pollan stuff, but interesting and light. By Abraham Streep at Orion, on small things done right (about what the author believes is "the first truly "green" bakery in the world, serving organic foods and built entirely from recycled and ecologically-sound materials").

More like this

I have just finished reading both "Omnivore's Dilemma" AND Joel Salatin's book "Holy Cows and Hog's Heaven" and I am seriously considering doing a 4-part book review of both. I am interested in your research on the change from organic to mechanistic view of nature...

Coturnix, I'd love to hear about your thoughts on the Pollan book, and what you thought of Salatin too. I still have a chapter left in Pollan, but will be interviewing him in a few weeks, so am anxious to hear what others would want to ask him.

Another component clearly missing from the Harpers piece on Atrazine is how and why these sorts of delaying tactics are even possible. One of the missing pieces involves the Data Quality Act, a sordid tale of scheming and manipulation or business as usual. For a wonderful introduction to the DQA and its specific relevance to the Atrazine case, check out the Washington Post article by Rick Weiss:

The Environmental Protection Agency, long ineffective under the prior Administration, apparently took notice of the first NRDC study,