The Minnesota Department of Agriculture released its long-awaited multi-agency review of the herbicide atrazine just after lunch today. No headline-making news here: “While the review finds that atrazine regulations protect human health and the environment in Minnesota, it also identifies several opportunities to further minimize atrazine impacts,” states the MDA’s press release. Despite the controversial nature of atrazine, one could predict such a milquetoast conclusion, considering the MDA’s attempts to not offend the agrichemical community in the past. What is striking about this review is the timing of its coming out party.
This review, which was done with the help of Department of Health and Pollution Control Agency scientists, was originally due out in October. When it didn’t make that deadline, the new release date was set for December. Now, it comes out on a Friday afternoon in the middle of January.
It’s a common public relations truism that if you want coverage of your report to be one-sided, you release it to the media on a Friday afternoon—especially on one that falls at the end of a very busy news week locally, nationally and internationally. That’s the time when journalists are calling it quits for the week or are hard at work putting the finishing touches on weekend stories. That makes it more likely your press release describing the report will run pretty much as it was written—sans opposing viewpoints.
And there are opposing viewpoints out there, as LSP showed in a report we released Tuesday, Jan. 5, in conjunction with Pesticide Action Network North America: The Syngenta Corporation & Atrazine: The Cost to the Land, People & Democracy.
Which brings up another interesting issue of timing. Because of the LSP/PAN report, the past week has been full of media coverage in which atrazine’s perception as a safe, irreplaceable corn production tool has been seriously questioned. Perhaps the pro-atrazine community decided it was time to get an MDA press release out that reassures the public that there’s nothing to worry about when it comes to this controversial herbicide.
What better excuse to issue a release than the unveiling of a report that up until now no one in Minnesota government seemed in a particular hurry to lay before the public’s eyes?
The atrazine review will be officially posted on the state register Jan. 19, which will mark the beginning of a 60-day public comment period. The next two months should be interesting.