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Two heads aren't always better than one

The corporate propensity for rationalizing the irrational in the pursuit of profit appears to be boundless.

Consider J.R. Simplot, a giant agribusiness conglomerate whose phosphate mining operations in Idaho have grossly polluted creeks with selenium, a highly toxic metal. Simplot's scientists rationalized the corporation's dirty deed with a 1,200-page study asserting that even though the selenium contamination of creeks was well above levels allowed by environmental law, the water remained "safe" for fish.

Tucked back in the appendix of Simplot's own "study," however, were a few photographs that vividly depicted the screaming irrationality of the corporation's safety claims. The most stunning photo was of a two-headed baby trout produced by Simplot's pollution of area creeks. It wasn't the only sickening deformity caused by the selenium. Other trout had facial, fin and egg disfigurements.

These grotesque mutations led to calls for an independent agency to conduct a full scientific review of Simplot's study. At the request of Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service complied, issuing a scathing report in January that bluntly branded the corporate study "biased."

Simplot systemically understated the deformity rate of baby fish in the creeks, the agency found. It's not 20 percent that are deformed, as the company stated, but 70 percent.

Asked about this huge discrepancy, a Simplot vice president could only grump that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service review was "totally outside the regulatory process."

Well thank goodness for that. As another independent toxicology expert says, "I have seen lots of malformed baby fish, but never one with two heads. We need to be careful here."

Yes, let's. In fact, let's stop swallowing any irrational rationalizations by corporations that pollute for profit.

Jim Hightower, a radio talk-show host and author, is a former agricultural commissioner of Texas. info@jimhightower.com