WATSONVILLE, Calif. — In a webinar last week, the Alliance for Food and Farming here updated the produce industry on the progress of its Safe Fruits and Veggies campaign, a program designed last summer to ease consumer fears about pesticide residues. The webinar, “Safe Fruits and Veggies: Easing Common Fears About Pesticide Residues on Produce,” came just weeks after widespread media coverage of studies released by Environmental Health Perspectives linking pesticide exposure in the womb to lower IQs in children.
Bryan Silbermann, president and chief executive officer of the Produce Marketing Association, which supports the Safe Fruits and Veggies campaign, sees the coverage as a reminder for the produce industry to “continue and step up our efforts to tell the facts and fight misinformation, especially when studies are using data that's a decade old that's changed fundamentally.” Silbermann said the alliance's press release on the issue did not receive the same amount of media attention, despite including “information from credible scientists to correct the misconceptions about the studies and their conclusions.”
The website safefruitsandveggies.com is the cornerstone of the campaign, said Ed Beckman, president of California Tomato Farmers and member the Safe Fruits and Veggies subcommittee. The website is “designed to promote consumer understanding and to provide consumers with valuable tools they can use in their own decision making,” Beckman said. “It's here you'll find credible, science-based information that eases the common fears about pesticide residues.”
Marilyn Dolan and Teresa Thorne from the Alliance for Food and Farming shared details on the website's features and the campaign's progress. The website hosts produce nutritional information and several scientific reports, one refuting claims by groups such as the Environmental Working Group and its yearly “Dirty Dozen” list of produce to prioritize buying organic. Another report on long-term pesticide use trends in California will soon be added.
The site also offers a pesticide residue calculator that consumers can use to determine a dose response level by age and sex. For instance, it calculates that a teenager could eat 223 servings of blueberries in one day without any effect from pesticide residues.
To give shoppers more perspective into farming, the website will soon feature an “Expert FAQ” section with videos of experts, such as farmers, talking about produce.
As a first step into the world of social media, the alliance is starting a blog with information and news on the Safe Fruits and Veggie campaign. The group is also working on a consumer research project.
Beckman said the campaign is built around the messages that pesticide residue doesn't make fruits and vegetables harmful; the benefits of eating produce “far outweighs any theoretical risk from pesticides that may be present,” and “the healthiest people are those who eat the most fruits and vegetables.”
During the webinar, Silbermann made several suggestions to members of the industry to further the campaign, including linking their sites to the campaign website, sharing the site with others, telling their own stories, and responding to reports in the media. “Friends, I would suggest that the time for hiding and wishing that others will leave us alone is gone. It's long gone. You have the power at your fingertips. I suggest you use it,” said Silbermann.
The Alliance for Food and Farming has implemented an alert system for the produce industry so that members can respond en masse to media reports while receiving receive updates on the campaign. And, in line with the alliance's efforts to include its perspective in pesticide media coverage, the campaign has been reaching out to media organizations and to nutritionists, and plans to contact retail trade organizations.