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Ag critics happy to ignore reality

Published on July 8, 2011 3:01AM

Last changed on August 5, 2011 8:38AM


The ag community has always had a hard time accurately explaining the industry to urban audiences. Nonfarmers, it sometimes seems, just don't understand.

That played out recently in the pages of Oregon's largest newspaper.

An errant editorial June 20 in The Oregonian, Portland's daily newspaper, said that the Oregon Department of Agriculture "has a duty" to conduct independent tests on glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto's Roundup herbicide, to determine if it's safe for humans and the environment.

In a guest column a few days later, Katy Coba, director of the Oregon Department of Agriculture, explained that her agency didn't have the expertise, the resources or the statutory authority to conduct research on agricultural chemicals. She went on to educate The Oregonian's largely urban readership about how the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency tests and regulates pesticides.

And that's where Coba got into trouble with some readers who posted online comments on the Oregonian's website.

"Roundup is NOT a pesticide, it is an herbicide," one reader wrote. "Apparently, even though the author is Director of the Oregon Department of Agriculture, she does not know the difference, which may be part of the problem..."

"How could a high-level agriculture official make such a mistake," another asked. "Anybody who has spent a summer on a farm, or who does much backyard gardening would know the difference. The word pesticide is used incorrectly almost 20 times! Doesn't give me much faith in the leadership of the department."

While it's true that Roundup and other compounds containing gylphosate are specifically herbicides, they are, indeed, pesticides in the vernacular of the regulators.

"Though often misunderstood to refer only to insecticides, the term pesticide also applies to herbicides, fungicides, and various other substances used to control pests," according to the EPA. "Under United States law, a pesticide is also any substance or mixture of substances intended for use as a plant regulator, defoliant, or desiccant."

We could easily overlook a few online comments. But in Oregon and in Washington, it is these urban ideologues who drive the anti-agriculture ballot initiatives.

In addition to serving as ODA director since 2003, Coba comes from East Oregon farm stock, and is well versed in ag tradecraft. Oregonian readers should have no reason to question her bona fides.

Unfortunately, there is a small but active minority who don't want to hear the facts, and they are more than willing to use their own ignorance to discount the validity of information that comes from even the most reputable sources. To those who have made up their minds as a matter of ideology, facts really don't matter.


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