The Nation's Pulse

Marching for Frogs

Watch out for "Save the Frogs," the latest eco-scare.

By 4.27.11

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If you don't hear about "saving the frogs" by the end of this week, it's only because you're living under a rock -- like some amphibian or something. Environmental activists have declared April 29 to be "Save the Frogs Day," and they're going to do everything possible to enlist you into their crusade.

Their cause has an official website, announcing international events, seminars, classroom propaganda, poetry and art contests, and an obligatory demonstration on the steps of the Environmental Protection Agency -- all to alert you, Joe Citizen, to the looming "amphibian extinction crisis."

For several years, researchers have warned about the threat of extinction among certain frog and amphibian species. And to the extent that a problem does exist, biologists have managed to isolate the main culprit: disease.

In 2007, a major scientific study concluded: "The global emergence and spread of the pathogenic, virulent, and highly transmissible fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, resulting in the disease chytridiomycosis, has caused the decline or extinction of up to about 200 species of frogs." The biologists characterized this disease's impact on frogs as "the most spectacular loss of vertebrate biodiversity due to disease in recorded history," and they concluded: "In the absence of supportive evidence for alternative theories despite decades of research, it is important for the scientific community and conservation agencies to recognize and manage the threat of chytridiomycosis to remaining species of frogs."

However, blaming the extinction of any species on a mundane natural explanation only frustrates environmentalist groups. After all, they survive and thrive by blaming human beings for every problem on the planet in apocalyptic fundraising letters. And "Save the Frogs" activists are doing just that.

You would think that if frogs need protection from some menacing fungus, then those best suited to address the issue would be research biologists. But no: This grand cause demands your direct participation. "The frogs are depending on you," warns the "Save the Frogs" website. "Your children and their children are depending on you. The future of the planet lies in your hands and in your actions. SAVE THE FROGS!"

You might also believe, naively, that promising lines of research to combat a virulent fungus might lead to developing appropriate fungicides and breakthroughs in biotechnology. But again, no: In fact, the amphibian alarmists are actually blaming the frog extinctions on pesticides -- not on the fungus.

"An abundance of scientific literature," they insist, "has demonstrated the negative effects of an array of commonly used pesticides on amphibians: delayed metamorphosis, immunosuppresion [sic], hermaphroditism, sex reversal, and outright mortality." The worst offender, they declare, is atrazine -- an important, widely used agro-chemical that the campaigners single out on their website and which is the focus of their April 29 protest demonstration at the EPA.

I have written previously about the environmentalist campaign against atrazine and other agro-chemicals. From a public health standpoint, thousands of studies, including lengthy reviews by EPA scientific advisory panels, the World Health Organization, and other international bodies, have rejected as spurious the environmentalists' charges against atrazine. Recently the New York Times reported: "deformities in frogs in the northeastern United States are far more common in suburban and urban areas, not in and around farmlands, a Yale ecologist's research shows. The findings upend the conventional wisdom that agricultural pesticides are largely responsible for the abnormalities."

But such facts mean little to green fundraisers, of course. Nor do they mean anything to others who profit directly by spreading such falsehoods.

Consider "Frog TV," a YouTube-and-web-based series of videos whose purpose is to show "how chemical pesticides are threatening our health." Aimed in cartoon form at impressionable children, the show features "Triball," a three-eyed mutant frog who raises their fears about "strange things happening in our bodies" due to pesticides.

After first terrifying mothers and their kids about pesticides on food, the website tells them to do the following: "Flex your financial muscle and choose organic for the best personal and planetary health possible. Why is organic best? No harmful pesticides." Then follows a link to a site touting the benefits of organic food.

What you are not told is that this website is the creation of the Organic Valley Cooperative -- one of the largest organic farmer cooperative businesses in the United States, with sales exceeding a half billion dollars annually. That's right: Organic Valley is a profit-making business, trying to frighten consumers about the safety of their competitors' farm and dairy products. Like their website cartoons aimed at children and parents, another of Organic Valley's propaganda efforts is a "Farm Friends Kids Activity Flyer," which teaches tykes to fear "Pesticides, hormones, and drugs, oh my!" -- and, of course, to buy Organic Valley's products instead.

So if you hear a lot of noise this week about "saving the frogs," please understand that those yelling into the megaphones and microphones are not just scientifically deficient. They also aren't the selfless, disinterested consumer watchdogs they pretend to be. When these fear-mongers claim that pesticide makers and users profit by peddling poison, what they won't tell you is that they profit by peddling panic.

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About the Author

Robert James Bidinotto is a freelance editor and writer in Maryland.