Between the Lines: Don’t believe everything you hear

A recently televised video of President Barack Obama being confronted by an Illinois farmer elicited a flashback, the recalling of a conversation I had with my dad decades ago while I was a student at SDSU.

At the time I was taking an entomology elective class to meet my science requirements, and our lectures included discussions of control methods. My professor, with graying hair, recalled that as a graduate student, it wasn�t uncommon for him or his classmates to mix up a batch of DDT while �out in the field� on a research assignment.

We had learned enough in his class, by that time, to know that DDT was pretty powerful stuff.

�I thought it spelled the end of the fly,� Dad said, as I was describing what I had just learned about this deadly chemical concoction.

In the late 1950s, my dad and uncle decided to use DDT to keep flies in check on our dairy farm. The stuff worked amazingly well, he said, to the point that what they were seeing was hard to comprehend at times.

Every spring, the milking barn would be thoroughly cleaned and a fresh coat of whitewash was applied. �We decided to put the DDT into the whitewash,� Dad said. �This was in probably April. By late August, a fly could land on the wall, and after a few seconds, it would be dead.�

DDT was developed as the first of the modern insecticides early in World War II. It was initially used with great effect to combat malaria, typhus, and the other insect-borne human diseases among both military and civilian populations.

Scientists began to notice something, however. While DDT is remarkably effective in killing pests, it can also be extremely dangerous to humans and the environment.

It nearly caused the demise of the peregrine falcon and the bald eagle. The Environmental Protection Agency banned the pesticide�s use in the United States effective Dec. 31, 1972.

That�s why you and I can see something today that wasn�t possible 40 years ago � a bald eagle, in flight, in the wild. For years, my elementary school classmates and I could only see the majestic bird during field trips to the Great Plains Zoo in Sioux Falls.

We�ll let the flashback end and get back to real time now.

During his recent stops in Illinois, one farmer told Obama, �Please don�t challenge us with more rules and regulations from Washington, DC.�  Later, in Alpha, IL, the president fielded a similar comment, specifically about Environmental Protection Agency rules. The questioner said there should be some common sense so �we don�t regulate farmers out of business.�

In both cases, Mr. Obama responded that farmers might be hearing unfounded rumors.

�If you hear something is happening, but it hasn�t happened, don�t always believe what you hear,� he said.

There is a great deal of validity to the president�s comments. It�s advice we suggest South Dakota farmers take seriously. It is easy these days, when government is tagged as an evil bogeyman out to get us, to believe everything you hear.

It�s natural, too, to begin thinking that the unbelievable is, well, believable when you constantly hear it from what you believe to be credible sources.

For example, the very first piece of legislation authored by South Dakota Rep. Kristi Noem last April was the Farm Dust Regulation Prevention Act of 2011. Noem claims her legislation is needed to stop the �threat of burdensome new EPA dust regulations.� 

We can�t help but wonder if the true purpose of her bill is to simply keep alive the myth that the EPA will soon be descending upon all of us who rely on the agriculture industry.

Lisa P. Jackson, EPA administrator, must constantly refute the stuff put out by politicians like Noem who evidently don�t mind misleading their constituents.

Among Jackson�s list of myths:

The �cow tax.� �There�s never been plans, not by me, certainly not by anyone in this administration, to tax cows as a way to deal with the fact that they certainly have a contribution to greenhouse gas,� Jackson said last April at the North American Agricultural Journalism annual meeting in Washington.

Dust regulation. Dust is a regulated �conventional pollutant� under the Clean Air Act. The EPA regulates �particulate matter,� or dust particles in the air, especially tiny particles that can affect lung disease and contribute to heart disease. The Clean Air Act requires the agency to look at the standards every five years and determine if they should be changed, raised or lowered. A scientific board has reviewed the matter of dust and has (PM-10, of a size of 10 microns or higher) and has recommended lowering the current standard. The EPA staff subsequently recommended either retaining the current standards or lowering the tolerated amounts.

The EPA has held five of a series of �listening sessions in rural America,� in preparation for the decision. She says some in agriculture incorrectly imply that the EPA is �making decisions about dust regulations that would be totally unimplementable and � in some cases � nonsense.�

Spray drift. �There are allegations out there that this agency has a �no spray drift� policy,� Jackson said. She says that would be like saying �we can never have an accident.� The agency is looking at a label revision to clarify that there is no such policy and won�t be one.

Jackson says the myths are a problem because they �distract us from the real work we should be doing,� of �very real environmental concerns that impact American people but that touch agriculture.� Myths �tend to be born from and breed a culture of distrust.� She says the agency must protect air and water quality� in a way that �farmers and ranchers are able to do their jobs.�

Noem certainly isn�t the sole EPA negative myth-spreader in Congress. Several of her colleagues find that spreading misinformation about the agency is an easy way to make political hay.

Since the motives of Noem and her colleagues are less than pure, we can only repeat this piece of advice over and over: Don�t believe everything you hear.

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