by guest blogger Alex Formuzis, of the Environmental Working Group
Chemical agribusiness has finally hit the ceiling over Environmental Working Group’s (EWG’s) Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce. The Alliance for Food and Farming (AFF), a front group for pesticide sprayers, is demanding that we cease publishing our list showing which fruits and vegetables carry the highest levels of pesticide residue.
Conventional growers would rather that consumers—that is, their customers—not have that information before they walked into the supermarket.
Millions of Americans have come to rely on EWG’s Shopper’s Guide so they can eat plenty of healthy organic and conventional fruits and veggies without a bunch of pesticides. The AFF will have none of it. Its members want EWG to take down the Dirty Dozen (listing the 12 most pesticide-laden sorts of produce) immediately!
We won’t. And as long as the AFF’s members continue to spray pesticides on food, EWG will continue to tell the public which crops carry the highest and lowest pesticide deposits.
The AFF has been trying to shut down consumers’ access to our Shopper’s Guide since 2010. That year, the group asked for and received nearly $200,000 in taxpayer dollars to launch its attack on the guide. First, members of the AFF lobbied top Obama administration officials to weaken the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s annual pesticide residue tests, which EWG uses to compile the Shopper’s Guide.
When that didn’t work, AFF tried to convince people that eating pesticides posed no risks to health. It created a series of Web videos that showed conventional growers (pesticide sprayers) telling us so. That flopped.
Now the group has released a report using data collected from an Internet survey that claims EWG’s Shopper’s Guide, which has been used by millions of people to buy fruits and vegetables, is actually the reason Americans choose junk food over produce. The AFF’s report, titled “Scared Fat,” even suggests the Shopper’s Guide is partly to blame for the exploding obesity epidemic in the U.S.
The AFF asked its survey participants to select factors they considered critical when buying fruits and vegetables (homage to the late Richard Dawson, longtime host of Family Feud: “Survey says!”): The number one concern—according to the AFF’s own survey—was food tainted with dangerous bacteria like E.coli, listeria, and salmonella. The second most important factor was price. Concerns about pesticide residue came in third. An AFF panel of experts analyzed the poll results and concluded that “cost, availability, and preferences are much more significant factors [than pesticides] when it comes to purchasing fruits and vegetables.”
Right. People who eat a Big Mac and fries instead of apples and spinach aren’t making that choice because they read our Shopper’s Guide. Do you know anybody who has ever said, “I was going to dive into a bowl of blueberries, but this pesticide report made me pick up a pizza and two liters of Mountain Dew.”
On June 19th, the EWG released the new Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce. As we suspected, consumers around the country took notice because they are concerned about eating pesticides with their produce. Since its release, we have clocked more than 280,000 visits and half a million page views to the website. Some 62,000 people have “liked” it so far on Facebook, and it’s been bouncing around Twitter at quite a clip.
The AFF’s spray rigs are probably in a twist about recent sales figures for the organic food industry.
The April 27 edition of The Grower reported that sales of organic fruits and vegetables rose 11.7 percent last year, reaching $11.8 billion. It cited the Organic Trade Association’s annual survey as saying this healthy increase marked the third straight year sales have risen by double digits. Meanwhile, sales for conventional (with pesticides) fruits and vegetables have remained relatively flat. Are the AFF’s objections to EWG’s Shopper’s Guide actually driven by distress that the organic sector is sprinting ahead while conventional produce is stuck at the starting gate?
As the AFF’s own report said, most survey respondents commented that they would address their own concerns about food safety this way: “I would buy more organic produce.”
As EWG’s president, Ken Cook, put it, “The explosive growth in market share for organic produce in recent years testifies to a simple fact that pesticide companies and the farmers who use their products just can’t seem to grasp: People don’t like to eat food contaminated by pesticides.”
In recent years, a number of organizations like the American Academy of Pediatrics and the President’s Cancer Panel, along with noted public health experts, including physicians Philip Landrigan, Andrew Weil, Mehmet Oz, and Alan Greene, have urged Americans, especially young children and pregnant women, to reduce their dietary exposure to synthetic pesticides. A growing body of research has shown that pesticide exposure could pose adverse health effects in people. The only people who think we should eat more pesticides seem to be the members of the Alliance for Food and Farming.
You can stand with EWG as we fight against this latest assault by the AFF to deny concerned consumers the information they clearly want and rely on when shopping for healthy food for themselves and their families by clicking here.
Alex Formuzis is vice president for media relations at Environmental Working Group. He came to EWG in 2007 after nearly a decade as a senior communications aide to three members of the United States Senate. Prior to his time on Capitol Hill, he was in the public affairs shop of the Clinton Treasury Department and worked on state and national campaigns in his native Washington state