(Beyond Pesticides, January 17, 2014) A new economic study, Would banning atrazine benefit farmers?, published in the International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health demonstrates that eliminating the herbicide atrazine, widely used on U.S. corn crops, will economically benefit corn growers. The study examines the research produced by the Atrazine Benefits Team (ABT), a group assembled by atrazine manufacturer Syngenta, revealing that the industry-funded studies significantly overestimate the benefits of atrazine without considering the value of nonchemical weed management techniques.
Research, led by Frank Ackerman, PhD., professor at Tufts University in the Global Development and Environment Institute, questions the economic viability of atrazine in Syngenta’s study. Researchers critically review five papers released by ABT in 2011, which claim that the withdrawal of atrazine would diminish corn yields by 4.4%, increasing corn prices by 8%. Using these assumptions, Dr. Ackerman and his team calculated that corn growers’ revenue would actually increase by 3.2%, providing a total of $1.7 billion to farmers and the U.S. economy with minimal price changes for consumers. In short, because of price elasticity, eliminating atrazine would improve farmer revenues.
According to the study, “The result [of an atrazine ban] would be an increase in corn growers’ revenues, equal to US$1 ·7 billion annually under ABT assumptions. Price impacts on consumers would be minimal: at current levels of ethanol production and use, gasoline prices would rise by no more than US$0 ·03 per gallon; beef prices would rise by an estimated US$0 ·01 for a 4-ounce hamburger and US$0 ·05 for an 8-ounce steak. Thus withdrawal of atrazine would boost farm revenues, while only changing consumer prices by pennies.”
Additionally, the paper criticizes ABT conclusions that overstated the effectiveness of atrazine and completely ignored non-chemical alternatives. Indeed, the widespread use of chemicals like atrazine, according to the study, “has created a situation favoring the emergence and proliferation of herbicide resistant weeds.” The study finds, “Multiple factors, including the spread of resistance to both glyphosate and atrazine, the desire to reduce chemical costs, and concerns about health and ecosystem impacts of the herbicides, have led producers to consider low chemical or no- chemical IWM [integrated weed management] strategies.” These established and practical alternatives, however, were simply not considered by ABT’s analysis.
Thus, the study concludes that eliminating atrazine and opting for proven alternatives would not only improve farmer revenues but also avoid costs to human health and the environment. “The winners,” the authors conclude, “in an atrazine free future would include farm worker, farmers and their families, and other who are exposed to atrazine either directly from field uses or indirectly from contaminated tap water along with natural ecosystem that are currently damaged by atrazine.”
Indeed, because atrazine is used on up to 85% of all corn crops in the U.S. each year ””second only to the active ingredient glyphosate”” it is pervasive within the environment, including municipal drinking water. It is the most commonly detected pesticide in rivers, streams and wells, with an estimated 76.4 million pounds of atrazine applied in the U.S. annually. It has been linked to a myriad of environmental concerns and health problems in humans, including disruption of hormone activity, birth defects, and cancer, as well as effects on human reproductive systems, as we have noted.
In 2011, EPA published a petition to ban atrazine. Beyond Pesticides submitted comments last year in support of this petition in which we outline in detail the numerous reasons that this chemical is harmful and unnecessary. Syngenta was forced to pay $105 million in 2012 as part of a settlement to reimburse community water systems in 45 states that had to filter atrazine from its drinking water. However, according to reports on the settlement, Syngenta is neither accepting contamination responsibility nor acknowledging hazards associated with its product.
Currently, you can avoid eating food grown with harmful synthetic pesticides by eating organic. For this and many other reasons, organic products are the right choice for consumers. For more information on organic agriculture, visit Beyond Pesticides’ Organic Agriculture program page.
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.