David Walters: Oklahoma doesn't need this 'fix'

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The debate over State Question 777 — the so-called “Right to Farm” amendment — has got me thinking about my dad. He was a farmer in Canute. Like all farm kids, my four brothers and I helped him out with the work — chopping cotton, combining wheat, tending cattle. We didn't ask if the work we did was bad for our health. We had no idea it could be.

When our well water tested unfit for human consumption, we just thought that was another consequence of life on the farm. One of my jobs was to hold up a flag on a dirt road to mark the progress of a crop-dusting plane that sprayed both me and our cotton plants with pesticides — including DDT.

Back then, we had no idea how harmful DDT was. How could we? The guy who invented it won the Nobel Prize in 1948. DDT helped eliminate malaria in Europe and North America, and contributed to a dramatic reduction in mortality rates in Sri Lanka and India. It was also an extremely dangerous carcinogen that devastated the environment and was banned in the United States in 1972.

One way science changes the world is through rules and laws. What we did in the 1950s on our farm in Canute would probably horrify anyone concerned about health and environmental risk today. Nowadays, some of what we did would probably be illegal — especially our use of DDT.

Read all the recent editorials from The Oklahoman. So now, State Question 777 wants to freeze all rules, all laws, any regulation — for all time? This doesn't help farmers and ranchers in Oklahoma. It threatens their livelihood, and maybe even their lives, by denying them the advances that increased knowledge and research will provide to the rest of society. Can you imagine Oklahoma farmers being so afraid of Oklahoma voters that they want to isolate themselves from any future changes?

My dad got dementia in his 50s and died at an early age. He used to say, “If it ain't broke, don't fix it.” There are a lot of things that need fixing in Oklahoma. This “ain't” one of them.

Walters served as Governor of Oklahoma from 1991-1995.