WASHINGTON (FNS) -- The produce industry, facing a barrage of negative publicity surrounding pesticide residues on produce, dispatched additional troops to counter an assault marking the 10th anniversary of the Alar pesticide scare that made apple product sales plummet.
In a report and in full-page newspaper ads, the Environmental Working Group contended that children are no better protected from pesticides on apples than they were a decade ago.
According to the group's report, "How 'Bout Them Apples: Pesticides in Children's Food Ten Years After Alar," more than a quarter-million American children ages one through five eat a combination of 20 different pesticides every day.
"We hope parents will listen to what we have to say. We still have government inaction and we still have pesticides in kids' foods," said Ken Cook, EWG president, who maintained that "the government is protecting chemicals instead of kids."
In response, industry groups like the Produce Marketing Association, Newark, Del., cited statistics from the U.S. Department of Agriculture showing that 99% of fresh produce has either no residues or residues far below established tolerances.
"The claims now being made about pesticide residues on apples and other produce items have nothing to do with food safety," said Bryan Silberman, PMA president. "Instead, they symbolize the frustration these fear-mongers have with a regulatory process that must rely on science rather than fear to make good policy decisions."
Stacey Zawell, vice president of the Grocery Manufacturers of America here, called the EWG's latest assessment "alarmist hype" that should not replace "quality scientific review."
"The food industry continues to work with federal regulators in ensuring the world's safest food supply stays that way," Zawell said. "Sound scientific analysis should remain the foundation of food-safety regulations, not irrational, ideological paranoia."
It was public reaction to an episode of "60 Minutes" in 1989 that kicked off the Alar scare, when the government's top pesticide regulator told a reporter that the pesticide Alar was too carcinogenic to qualify for federal approval under the standards then in place for new chemicals. Parents stopped feeding their children apples, and the apple industry struggled with sales. Two years later, the Bush Administration banned Alar, because it posed a cancer risk.
To the chagrin of produce growers and marketers, the Environmental Working Group is once again saying parents should consider replacing apples with items known to be lower in pesticides.
The EWG also called on the Environmental Protection Agency to immediately ban the use of the pesticide methyl parathion, which poses short-term risks to small children. An emergency ban on the bug killer is needed, the EWG said, because 610,000 preschoolers are exceeding government-established safety limits daily through the consumption of apples and peaches.