Farm Runoff and Pfiesteria

Letter to the Editor
Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company
May 28, 1998

The Post's May 12 editorial "A Serious Cleanup of the Bay" applauded Gov. Parris Glendening's "leadership" for cracking down on agricultural waste practices on the shores of the Chesapeake Bay and chided Virginia's original skepticism about the link between farm practices and Pfiesteria piscidida.

However, The Post seems to have confused politics with sound environmental policy. Virginia's skepticism was and still is well founded. To date, no link has been demonstrated between outbreaks of Pfiesteria and nutrient levels or farm practices. While some scientists, such as JoAnne Burkholder, have asserted such a link, they have not backed up these assertions with objective evidence.

In fact, the available evidence indicates that nutrient levels and Pfiesteria outbreaks are unrelated. Several outbreaks of Pfiesteria, including outbreaks in the Pocomoke and Rappahannock rivers, occurred when nutrient levels were normal and relatively low.

Thus, big fines against the poultry industry and additional farm runoff controls apparently will do nothing to preclude future outbreaks of Pfiesteria. And time and money spent on implicating the wrong suspect needlessly delay finding the true causes of Pfiesteria.

It seems to me that a truly serious effort to clean up the bay's rivers and streams would begin with a serious search for the true causes of Pfiesteria, instead of leaps to predetermined conclusions.

Center for Global Food Issues
Hudson Institute
Churchville, Va.

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