Filed Under: Livestock

Pfiesteria hysteria (say it five times fast…)

The science world is abuzz with news that Pfiesteria piscicida [fiss-TEER-ee-uh piss-ki-SEED-uh], an organism blamed in recent years for massive fish kills on the East coast of the United States, may not be such a harmful little bug after all. Activist groups like the Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, and Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.’s Waterkeeper Alliance have raised untold sums of money by promising to fight “the cell from hell.” Now it appears they’ve been spreading fear for no good reason.

The New York Times reports today that the scientific work of JoAnn Burkholder, on which most of the Pfiesteria hysteria has been based, has not been confirmed by any outside experts. This, says the Times, is because “Burkholder has declined to make her toxic strain of Pfiesteria widely available.” The leading expert at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now says that “it has not been scientifically demonstrated that Pfiesteria piscicida produces toxins or that the presence of the organism in water is a human health hazard.”

That giant sucking sound you hear is the “several million dollars” in annual federal research grants being redirected to more worthwhile studies. Watch this space tomorrow, as we bring you more detailed coverage of this developing story.

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