Robert Lee Metcalf was a distinguished entomologist who started his teaching and research at the University of California-Riverside. He invented carbamates, neurotoxic insecticides. The University of California demanded his patent be sold to a private chemical industry company.
Metcalf left Riverside for the University of Illinois where he continued his teaching and research. But he was becoming disenchanted with the establishment. He ridiculed the enthusiasm for pesticides among his colleagues, farmers, the chemical industry and government regulators. So in the 1987 summer issue of the Newsletter of the College of Arts and Sciences of the University of Illinois, he wrote a scathing critique of the chemical industry-farm-government complex. He said he was disappointment with America’s obsession with chemicals.
“The short-sighted and irresponsible use of pesticides and antibiotics is producing strains of monster-bugs that are resistant to our chemical weapons. Some strains of insects and microbes have appeared that are resistant to nearly everything in our chemical arsenal. It is difficult to see how anyone can remain intelligently optimistic about the future of chemical control. The outlook is dismal - and getting worse,” he wrote.
I met Metcalf in the mid-1980s at a meeting at the US Environmental Protection Agency. He was angry. Perhaps he had second thoughts about inventing neurotoxins. He could see the farmers and the industry were misusing them. He told me he could not stand the audacious and ludicrous advertisements of the chemical industry on the supposed “safety” of its pesticide products. He said it only took a few free drinks to corrupt government officials. He kept urging EPA to get rid of dangerous pesticides and to be more sensitive to public health and the environment.
But the superbugs already in force in 1987 were proof that neither the EPA nor the US Food and Drug Administration (the two federal agencies responsible for the wholesomeness of the Nation’s food and the integrity of the natural world) had the guts to reign in the excesses of the industry, including the livestock farmers dumping antibiotics into the feed of farm animals.