Dealing with Chemophobia

Several agrichemical companies established a Consumer Information Program to deal with the public's fear about agrichemicals. This program conducted a survey on the public's perceptions on pesticides. Cancer was concern #1. There was a desire for organic farming to increase and felt that the technology was available but ignored by farmers. One outcome of this survey was to determine what information may ease the public's anxieties and what information does not.

Statements that help relieve chemophobia concerning pesticides:

Pesticides undergo a rigorous testing process. There are more than 120 separate tests taking 8-10 years at a cost of $35-50 million that must be passed.
Only about one in 20,000 compounds make it to the farm. Monitoring of agrichemicals continues even after chemical registration.
The National Cancer Institute has stated that there is NO scientific evidence that pesticide residues on produce causes cancer in people.
A 40-lb child would need to eat 340 oranges each day for a lifetime and still would not consume enough pesticide residue that would cause a health problem in a mouse.
People's confidence in pesticides was greatly increased when they learned about the amount of initial and ongoing testing performed on each chemical. Most people do not know or understand the strict regulatory criteria used on pesticides. An explanation of these requirements gives more confidence in how a chemical gets to the agricultural market.

Arguments that do not help relieve the public's concern:

Risk comparisons such as one in a million aren't effective. It implies that a person could be that one and note there are 8 million people in New York City and in Los Angeles. The world needs to be fed and pesticides are an integral part of farming does not work. There are far more naturally-occurring chemicals that are really dangerous such as cyanide, strychnine and many natural carcinogens. The public assumes that people can break these down, metabolize, in the body system since we live with these chemicals. The fact that organic food supplies have serious drawbacks doesn't help. It's better to explain integrated pest management (IPM) and sustainable agriculture.

[adapted from "Pesticide Notes" published by Michigan State Univ.]

How Gullible Are We?

In 1998, Nathan Zohner, then a freshman at Eagle Rock Junior High School in Idaho Falls, ID, decided to show how conditioned people had become to alarmists practicing junk science. For his science project for the Greater Idaho Falls Chamber of Commerce, he urged people to sign a petition demanding strict control or total elimination of the chemical “dihydrogen monoxide.” He told those who signed that:

It caused excessive sweating and vomiting.
It is a major component in acid rain.
It can cause severe burns in its gaseous state.
Accidental inhalation can kill you.
It contributes to erosion.
It decreases effectiveness of car brakes.
It has been found in tumors of cancer patients.
He asked 50 people if they supported a ban of this chemical. Forty-three said yes, six were undecided, and only one knew that dihydrogen monoxide was actually water.

The title of his prize-winning project? “How Gullible Are We?”

[taken from the “Potato Grower, vol. 27, iss. 2, Feb. 1998.]