By Tom Karst
Published on 10/22/2010 11:14AM
Ray Gilmer, vice president of communications for the Washington, D.C.-based United Fresh Produce, said the meeting at USDA offices was attended by Larry Elworth, chief agricultural counselor to the administrator at EPA; Steven Bradbury, deputy director of the Office of Pesticide Programs for the EPA; Don Kraemer, deputy director for the office of food safety for FDA; and Sarah Bittleman, senior advisor to the secretary at USDA.
United Fresh was represented by Gilmer; Robert Guenther, senior vice president of public policy at United Fresh; and Rob Neenan, vice president of environmental affairs and sustainability at United Fresh.
“The big push has always been to get the EPA and the other agencies more engaged in defending the registration process,” he said. “The ‘Dirty Dozen’ (list) comes out from the Environmental Working Group, and a bunch of news outlets run it and it raises doubts in the minds of consumers about the safety of fresh produce.”
Gilmer said news reports never quote FDA or USDA about the Dirty Dozen list, which Gilmer said is ironic since the Environmental Working Group uses the annual report from the Pesticide Data Program in its report.
“It was a very frank discussion about how this kind of mischaracterization of the PDP data can lead to consumers eating fewer fruits and vegetables, which is clearly against the mandate of USDA,” he said. “All the parties in the room said absolutely that the PDP data shows there is no risk associated with the consumption of fresh produce due to pesticide residues.”
Representatives from the EPA, FDA and USDA said they generally haven’t received a lot of media inquiries about the so-called ‘Dirty Dozen,’ he said. “They felt like they weren’t really engaged in the conversation,” Gilmer said.
How the agencies would respond to such media inquiries was discussed, Gilmer said.
At the same time, Gilmer said the federal registration process is a federally mandated process and federal officials agreed on the need to defend the pesticide registration process so it is not hijacked by activists groups with other agendas.
The PDP report is put out by the USDA. However, he said representatives from FDA and EPA expressed interest in becoming more engaged in reviewing the report.
Gilmer said federal officials seemed open to work together to clarify the PDP and to make sure the reports can’t be misinterpreted or twisted make people doubt the safety of produce. Gilmer said how that can be accomplished is still yet to be determined.
“This is just a first step — an agreement to share resources and expertise and work together to make those reports clearer,” he said.
A focus of the meeting was the USDA annual Pesticide Data Program annual report — typically issued in the summer — that might be refined, Gilmer said.
“The objective in the initial organizational meeting was that we want to see if we can figure out that whatever data is out there be less likely to be misconstrued and misinterpreted,” he said. “We’re trying to make sure that anyone who reads that PDP report sees — as do all the people in the room (Oct. 19) — that there is no risk associated with the consumption of fresh produce due to pesticide residues.”
Gilmer said the industry would like to see the PDP report convey that message while still conveying all the detail they always have. “We would like to stem the tide of misinformation from the source,” he said.
He cautioned the process to accomplish that won’t necessarily be quick, because it will require input from many sectors of the industry.
“We are going to need to be very inclusive on how we approach this initiative and I think we need remain diligent in meeting head on in meeting any charges from critics
Gilmer said United Fresh supports what the Watsonville, Calif.-based Alliance for Food and Farming has done present a science-based evaluation of the Dirty Dozen list.
“It is an immediate response, and we need to be engaged in the dialogue,” he said.
Other industry associations will be invited to take part in the dialogue with federal officials. No date has been set for the next meeting, he said.