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The Atrazine Debate in Perspective

CPR Member Scholar Frank Ackerman had an op-ed in the Des Moines Register the other day, “Atrazine ban would not ruin the Corn Belt.”

The chemical in question is a weed-killer, and also a known endocrine disruptor. The Bush Administration’s EPA determined that atrazine does not cause negative effects to human health. The Obama Administration’s EPA is currently conducting a review of that assessment (stay tuned).

Ackerman responds to arguments that banning atrazine would cause huge economic harm, writing:

How great is the economic benefit of using atrazine? Several studies have estimated that atrazine boosts average corn yields by 6 percent or less. A database of field trials, maintained by consultant Richard Fawcett and relied on by atrazine supporters, shows that it increases corn yields by an average of 3 to 4 percent. The most comprehensive national study, by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, estimated that banning atrazine would lower corn yields by 1.2 percent.

In fact, atrazine might have no effect at all on corn yields. Two corn-growing countries, Germany and Italy, both banned atrazine in 1991. I compared the trends in corn yields per acre, and in corn acreage, in the United States, Germany and Italy for 1981-2001. Both Germany and Italy did as well or better in corn production after banning atrazine as they did in the 10 years before the ban. And both countries did as well or better than the United States after banning atrazine.

Ackerman’s full article on the subject is “The Economics of Atrazine.”

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