Website’s pesticide residue calculator helps allay consumers' fears

06/01/2011 11:00:00 AM
Vicky Boyd

Editor's Note: This is the From the Field column, published in the June-July 2011 issue of The Grower magazine.

You may have heard about the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen list, the supposed research that links children’s low IQs to pregnant women eating pesticide-laden produce and Dr. Oz’s recent show highlighting produce pesticide residue and his own recipe for a produce wash.

Unfortunately, these are part of a growing trend from fear-mongering groups that play on consumers’ emotions and lack science to back their claims.

The Watsonville, Calif.-based Alliance for Food and Farming last summer launched a website——to address some of those concerns. More recently, the alliance conducted a webinar to update industry leaders on website additions and to enlist their help in spreading the fact-based truth.

“Nothing concerns us more than the needless fears created by these baseless claims,” says Bryan Silberman, president of the Newark, Del.-based Produce Marketing Association, an alliance member.

In fact, a recent survey showed that 29 percent of consumers avoid some produce because of pesticide concerns.

The alliance, comprising about 50 farmers and farm-related organizations nationally, was established to promote science-based information and to counter unsubstantiated claims.

It is supported by voluntary donations and takes no funds from chemical companies or their representatives, says Marilyn Dolan, alliance executive director.

One of the recent additions to the website is an easy-to-use pesticide residue calculator.

With a few clicks of the mouse, users can find out how many servings of an individual produce item with the highest residue levels recorded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture they could safely consume.

Take strawberries, for example. A woman, like myself, could eat 2,042 servings in one day without any effects from pesticide residue.

If I wanted to read the science behind the calculations, I could click on a button that takes me to the full report, written by leading university and medical experts.

And the alliance’s efforts seem to be working, Dolan says. The Environmental Working Group has softened its original message and now says people shouldn’t stop consuming produce because of the pesticide risk.

Nevertheless, the EWG continues to promote its Dirty Dozen, which lists what it considers the 12 fruits and vegetables with the highest pesticide residues.

But Dolan says the industry needs to step forward and tell its story. “It’s not enough any more to respond with a letter from a produce group,” she says. “We need multiple responses. The more comments, the better.”

This becomes especially important with entertainment shows, such as Dr. Oz, that are all about ratings and less about facts.

The alliance has begun a system to alert growers about upcoming issues and how to respond.

“Even if it’s a brief response, numbers really, really matter,” Dolan says, referring to the likes of Dr. Oz.

If you’d like to receive the alerts and become more involved, contact Dolan at

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