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California Ag Department Funds Pro-Pesticide Media Campaign

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CREDIT: Flickr / jekrub

Many environmentally conscious foodies are by now well-acquainted with the wallet cards that rank different types of fish or fruits and vegetables by eco-friendly production practices, a useful tool in negotiating the supermarket offerings. But the produce industry has taken a stand against these innocuous tools, arguing that they discourage consumers from eating all of the pesticide residue that comes with your fruits and veggies.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) produces a “Dirty Dozen” list of the twelve most pesticide covered crops (a PDF, which also which also features the “clean 15,” is available here), to encourage consumers to choose organic. Understanding that many shoppers need to be cautious with spending, the Dirty Dozen helps shoppers prioritize by price and pesticide impact. For example, an extra dollar a pound might be worth it for organic spinach, but it’s smart to save on cantaloupe.

The produce industry group Alliance for Food and Farming, in conjunction with the Produce Marketing Association, launched a comprehensive campaign against EWG and its Dirty Dozen guide. The web site, Safe Fruits and Veggies, was created last summer and is dedicated to promoting, well, consumption of pesticide residue. (All at no additional charge—it’s included for free with your groceries!)

The site claims that the EWG’s dirty dozen list is “an impediment to public health because it discourages consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables” at a time when nutrition is a high national priority. The EWG list isn’t a scare tactic—it’s an educational, albeit incomplete tool. But the Organic Consumers Association thought ahead anyway and developed a comprehensive nutritional guide to substitutions. If organic red peppers are cost prohibitive and conventional red peppers are toxic, they recommend that you try broccoli, Brussels sprouts, or carrots to get your Vitamins A and C.

Now the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) has awarded a $180,000 grant to the Alliance for Food and Farming to support their anti-organic mission. Their winning project, “Correcting Misconceptions about Pesticide Residues,” is not much more than a pr blitz, since “the goal is to generate more balanced media reporting and change public perception about the safety of produce when it comes to pesticide residues.”

Although the USDA is increasingly helpful with offering resources for farmers to help market their products, it’s distressing that the California government would help cover the cost of the group’s propaganda, but not surprising: the pro-pesticide campaign applauds the EPA for good-enough testing and the FDA for the simple recommendation that you should wash your veggies. Just because the produce industry doesn’t think that there is worthy scientific evidence of pesticide residue dangers doesn’t mean that consumers shouldn’t. (There was eventually a whole debate over the toxicity of bisphenol A, after a study suggested it may increase the likelihood of cancer.)

Considering both the unknowns about pesticides, and the fact that consumer education leads to better informed decisions, it's irresponsible for an agriculture agency to fund a baseless campaign that tells consumers that pesticpay fides are no big deal.

Sara Rubin is a staff writer at Campus Progress.

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