“We spend our lives living in a chemical soup,” writes Vallianatos (This Land Is Their Land: How Corporate Farms Threaten the World, 2006, etc.), who was a risk evaluator for the Environment Protection Agency from 1979 to 2004. With Jenkins (Journalism/Univ. of Delaware; What’s Gotten Into Us: Staying Healthy in a Toxic World, 2011), he excoriates the agency for routinely yielding to outside pressure in regulating pesticides and other environmental pollutants.
Founded in 1970, the EPA inherited Department of Agriculture personnel who brought their enthusiasm for chemical farming. Dedicated scientists arrived, but their findings are never the last word. That belongs to their superiors, who weigh evidence of an agent’s toxicity against industry spokesmen and fierce opposition of administration and Congress to “burdensome government regulation” and “attacks on the farmer.” The authors recite a depressing litany of poisons approved despite damning, inadequate or fraudulent testing—and often no testing at all. EPA whistle-blowers, always portrayed as heroes, are usually ignored, demoted or fired. Although President Ronald Reagan’s effort to abolish the EPA failed, he weakened it dramatically. Abolition remains the goal of many Republicans, while Democrats oppose this plan. However, Democratic presidents, Barack Obama included, have proven a disappointment. Sadly, a minority of environmentalists excepted, Americans rarely pester their representatives about this subject or contribute to their campaigns. Agribusinesses and chemical manufacturers do both. Even an impartial EPA official—rare in this damning indictment—hears mostly one side of an argument. In the obligatory how-to-fix-it conclusion, Vallianatos and Jenkins suggest that the EPA should be run like the Food and Drug Administration and Federal Reserve—by experts, not political appointees. This is not likely.
Readers of this overheated but often on-the-mark polemic will conclude that the safest tactic is organic food and a fly swatter.