VISALIA, Calif. — The Alliance for Food & Farming has taken the wraps off a new web-based and smart phone tool designed to aid consumers and ease concerns over claims by environmental activists.

Consumers can determine how many servings of a commodity with surface pesticide residues would have to be consumed to be harmful, Marilyn Dolan, executive director of the Castroville, Calif.-based Alliance, told the California Tree Fruit Agreement’s fifth annual educational symposium Oct. 26 in Visalia.

The Washington, D.C.-based Environmental Working Group issues an annual list dubbed the Dirty Dozen, which it says identifies commodities that have the highest pesticide residue counts based on U.S. Department of Agriculture data. The problem with the list, Dolan said, is that it deals only with the number of pesticide residues found on fresh produce.

“The Environmental Working Group does not address toxicity,” she said.

Alliance for Food & Farming adds tool for concerned consumers

Dolan

   
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In late October, the alliance added the calculator tool to a new website, www.safefruitsandveggies.com. Robert Krieger, who heads the Personal Chemical Exposure Program at the University of California-Riverside, developed the tool in cooperation with the alliance, Dolan said.

Consumers can download the app or use it on the website, and customize options for man, woman, teen or child. The calculator determines how many servings per day can be consumed without any effect, even if the commodity has the highest pesticide residue ever recorded by the USDA for the produce item.

Celery is ranked No. 1 on this year’s Dirty Dozen. The website’s calculator concludes that a man could consume 133,951 celery servings in a day with no ill effects.

Other information on the website challenges the environmental group’s findings, including a report from a nationwide panel of toxicologists, risk assessors and nutritionists. After a year’s work, Dolan said the panel concluded that the list:

• is misleading;

• impedes public health, because it discourages consumption of fresh produce; and

• lacks scientific evidence that the reported pesticide levels pose any risk.

“Unlike the Environmental Working Group, all of our reports are peer-reviewed,” Dolan said. “We’re asking EWG to do the same.”

Transparency is imperative for consumers to make educated buying decisions, she said. News media coverage of the Dirty Dozen and other claims have reduced the public’s consumption of fresh produce, Dolan said.

A 2008 alliance survey found that 17% of consumers had stopped buying or limited their buying of fresh produce because of concerns over pesticide residues. The public’s concerns are growing, Dolan said.

A recent survey by The Hartman Group, Bellevue, Wash., found the segment of shoppers who had stopped buying or decreased purchases of fresh produce because of concerns of pesticide residues has climbed to 29%, she said.

The Alliance for Food & Farming plans to ramp up efforts in the future, helped in part by a $180,000 specialty crop program grant from the USDA. It has, Dolan said, mapped a three-year campaign that includes featuring individual growers, a professional spokesperson, more social media and outreach to health experts and organizations, such as the American Dietetic Association.