American consumers are concerned about chemical pollutants in the air, in their water and in the food they eat.
For the most part, they tolerate some pollution in the names of progress, industry, commerce, a relatively high standard of living and a fairly comfortable lifestyle.Utahns driving past the Geneva Steel Works who see clouds of smoke issuing from the plant and who smell acrid odors generally chalk the problems up to industrial growth and development for the area and probably figure the smoke and smell are necessary, but they wish it weren't and they would like the problem solved.
As long as plant officials keep working to solve the problem, most people are understanding enough to keep their complaints on hold, especially if they are profiting in some way from the renewed production at the plant and its payroll.
There has been some talk for years about chemicals showing up in foods. Most of the concern has been about chemicals in milk, meat and fish.
There have been reports about farmers injecting their animals with various chemicals to promote health, growth and meat production and some people still have concerns that these chemicals will show up in the food sold in stores and end up on their dinner tables and in their own bodies.
Scientists argue whether some or all of these chemicals, which may or may not reach our stomachs, are harmful or not.
Most Americans, like the people who drive by Geneva, are willing to hold off judgment until more facts are known and until more studies have been made. But they are not going to hold off forever. Americans want clean air and they want clean water and wholesome food.
The whole problem has come to light again now that Europeans have banned U.S. meat, claiming American beef producers are using growth stimulants in cattle.
American cattlemen, on the other hand, claim there is no scientific evidence to support the ban and claim the ban is motivated, instead, by an over abundance of European beef and European protectionism.
The meat issue comes on the heels of a problem that has concerned American consumers for several years - groundwater pollution from agricultural chemicals.
There have been reports for more than a decade that the abundance of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides used to grow food and fiber in America are finding their way into the nation's drinking water via seepage and erosion.
Farmers do use a lot of chemicals to grow food. Fertilizer use in the nation is projected to increase through 1992 to 45 million tons, from 43 million tons in 1987.
The question is not whether chemicals are being used to produce meat and grow food, but whether these chemicals are actually getting into our drinking water and into the meat and groceries we eat, whether these chemicals are harmful and, if so, to what extent.
Farmers, food processors and stores, agricultural scientists and agribusinesses need to answer these questions about food in better detail and with more clarity than they have in the past. They need to reassure Americans about the products Americans are eating and drinking.
If there is a problem, it should be solved. If the use of chemicals is harmful to people, then new methods of producing food should be found to decrease chemical use. If chemicals are really harmless, then this should be spelled out better so Americans know where they stand.
There have been a great many arguments for the use of chemicals to produce meat, milk and other foods and fiber. Most of them center around the need to be highly productive because of competition from abroad and because there are so few farmers in this country and so many Americans and others in the world to feed.
Many farmers, economists, and scientists believe that more organic methods of food production will be found and that biotechnology and genetic engineering will replace many or even most chemicals.
I think, in the future, biotechnology will produce natural pesticides and herbicides and farmers will develop minimum tillage farming methods that will make the use of a great many and a great amount of chemicals unnecessary.
Farmers just have to convince Americans to wait and be patient. In the meantime, farmers and scientists should get busy and solve these problems - and start answering the questions that American consumers are asking.