Online calculator helps address consumer pesticide concerns

07/09/2012 12:42:00 PM
Lisa Lochridge

The U.S. Department of Agriculture in late May released data from its annual Pesticide Data Program, which monitors pesticide residues on fruits, vegetables and other foods commonly eaten by infants and children.

The report shows that pesticide residues found on all but 0.25 percent of the samples tested were within the strict safety limits set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

As we know, the mere presence of residue on food does not mean there is a danger. Indeed, the USDA said when it issued its report,

“Age-old advice remains the same: eat more fruits and vegetables and wash them before you do so.”

Health and nutrition experts encourage the consumption of fruits and vegetables in every meal as part of a healthful diet.

This message is affirmed in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans released last year, in USDA’s My Plate, as well as federal nutrition guidance that urge people to make half their plate fruits and vegetables.

But for years, the Environmental Working Group has used the PDP data to compile its annual “Dirty Dozen” list of fruits and vegetables aimed at discouraging consumers from eating fresh produce.

The impact of the Dirty Dozen list can’t be taken lightly.

Consumers take note of the list.

You may even have friends or relatives who’ve asked you about it. The good news is that there are some tools available to help you answer questions and put the issue in context.

To combat misconceptions spread by the EWG’s list and help consumers understand just how small the residues found on fruits and vegetables are, the Alliance for Food and Farming, a non-profit group representing both conventional and organic farmers, has developed a unique tool based upon the USDA’s residue data.

The tool, known as the Residue Consumption Calculator, was developed by toxicology professor Robert Krieger, who heads the Personal Chemical Exposure Program at the University of California, Riverside.

Krieger analyzed the highest residue levels found on fruits and vegetables by the USDA and calculated the number of servings that could be eaten in one day with no negative health effects.

The interactive calculator shows that children and adults can consume hundreds or even thousands of servings of many popular fruits and vegetables in one day and not experience negative health effects from pesticide residues.

The tool, which also can be run on a smartphone, is available on the consumer-oriented website, www.safefruitsandveggies.com.

In addition, the alliance has released a new video featuring children and their reactions when shown the very large amounts of produce they could eat based upon Krieger’s analysis.

FFVA encourages its members and others in agriculture to use these tools to answer questions and educate consumers on the safety and healthfulness of fresh fruits and vegetables. 

Lisa Lochridge is the director of public affairs for the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association in Maitland. She can be reached at (321) 214-5206 or lisa.lochridge@ffva.com.



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