Would you pay for a campaign to assure consumers that pesticide residues in their fruits and vegetables pose no harm to their health? Because, whether you want to or not, you just have. The California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) recently awarded $180,000 in federal grant funding to an organization called the Alliance for Food and Farming for a project titled “Correcting Misconceptions about Pesticide Residues.” The money came from the U.S Department of Agriculture’s Specialty Crop Block Grant program, a grant program intended to “enhance the competitiveness” of so-called specialty crops: fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits, horticulture, and nursery crops.
The Alliance for Food and Farming (AFF) is a front group representing California’s large produce growers and marketers and suppliers who sell them pesticides and fertilizer. Some of the member organizations include the California Strawberry Commission, Western Growers, the California Table Grape Commission, Sunkist Growers, the Produce Marketing Association, the California Farm Bureau Federation, and the California Association of Pest Control Advisers. A look on the pesticides section of AFF’s Web site shows headlines such as “US Farmers are Environmentalists Too” and “Everything Doesn’t Cause Cancer,” as well as produce industry documents refuting a recent study that linked pesticides to ADHD.
According to CDFA’s press release, AFF will use its new taxpayer-funded grant, to “generate more balanced media reporting and change public perception about the safety of produce when it comes to pesticide residues,” by “utilizing sound science backed by a team of nutrition and toxicological experts.” The press release also charges that “claims by activist groups about unsafe levels of pesticides have been widely reported in the media for many years” and “continued media coverage of this misleading information is damaging to producers of California specialty crops and may also have a negative impact on public health.”
As a part of its campaign, AFF commissioned a report by four toxicologists and a nutritionist that critiques the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) “Dirty Dozen” list of the most contaminated fruits and vegetables. Of the experts who wrote the report, two have links to the International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI), a food industry lobby group, including one who served as the executive director of ILSI’s Risk Science Institute, and two who serve in university positions endowed by major corporations (Mars, Inc. and Dow Chemical). The report nitpicks EWG’s methodology because the dirty dozen list measures which fruits and vegetables typically contain the most pesticide residues but does not assess which pesticides, and thus, which foods, actually carry the most risk of harm to one’s health.
The AFF report also takes issue with the assertion that dietary exposure to pesticides can harm one’s health. It points out that environmental and occupational exposures to pesticides are often much higher than dietary exposures (i.e. a farmworker who works among fields where pesticides were sprayed is exposed to more pesticides than the average person who eats fruits and vegetables that were grown using pesticides) and that there are relatively few studies in existence that focus specifically on dietary exposure to pesticides