Amid controversy about how U.S. Department of Agriculture pesticide residue data is used, an agency official said the release of the latest annual report on the Pesticide Data Program was imminent.
Michael T. Jarvis, director of public affairs for the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service, said that as of May 19, officials were still in the process of clearing the report for release with 2009 figures — the most recent on record.
“We’ve got the data, we’ve got the executive summary and some information for the public so they can have an understanding about the report,” Jarvis said May 17.
Jarvis deferred further comment about the details of the report until it was released.
The Washington, D.C.-based Environmental Working Group — which has used the PDP report data for about a decade for its “Dirty Dozen” list of pesticide residues on produce, sent a letter in mid-May to federal agencies, requesting the report’s release.
The EWG said the report is typically released closer to January. In the letter, EWG president Ken Cook asked Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson and Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Margaret Hamburg to promptly release of the most recent test results.
In a May 16 news release, Cook expressed alarm, saying that produce industry officials were trying to influence the release of the report.
“It is shocking in 2011 to see major produce companies in a public bear hug with the pesticide lobby,” Cook said in the release
Industry leaders say they hope the report won’t be misused by the Environmental Working Group to create consumer alarm about pesticide residues on produce.
A variety of produce organizations, including Washington, D.C.-based United Fresh Produce Association; Newark, Del.-based Produce Marketing Association and Irvine, Calif.-based Western Growers have asked the USDA in recent months to provide better context in the report to prevent mischaracterization of the data in ways that would cause undue alarm for consumers about consuming fresh produce.
Kathy Means, vice president of government relations and public relations for PMA, said the association has never asked the USDA to withhold or change the data.
“We have been talking to USDA urging them to provide a little more context,” she said.
“We haven’t been asking them not to release it. It is up to USDA when they are ready to release that data.”
Whatever form the report is issued in, Ray Gilmer, vice president of communications for United Fresh Produce, said the USDA should not allow an activist group to turn the numbers around into a fundraising campaign and mislead people in the process.
“We hope the USDA will push back a little bit and make sure the data is understood correctly.”
Gilmer said the data must be understood as effort to measure the pesticide residues against the tolerances set by the EPA, not some arbitrary standard set by an activist group.