(UPDATED COVERAGE, May 14) Organic agriculture advocates see a
big upside in a recommendation by a cancer panel that consumers should
forego food treated by pesticides, but one produce industry leader
cautions against a knee-jerk reaction to the report.

In a substantial list of recommendations of what individuals can do to reduce the environmental exposure to carcinogens, the panel reporting to President Obama wrote:  "Exposure to pesticides can be decreased by choosing, to the extent possible, food grown without pesticides or chemical fertilizers and washing conventionally grown produce to remove residues."

Kathy Means, vice president of government relations and public affairs for the Newark, Del.-based Produce Marketing Association, said the subject of agricultural chemicals was only a small part of the report.

“When I read it, I see a major call for additional study and research,” she said.

What’s more, Means said the report should have recommended washing all produce, not just conventional produce.

“There is nothing wrong with organic and there is nothing wrong with conventional; they are both great,” she said. “Produce can’t evolve into a battle between organic and conventional; we need to be united about getting people to eat more produce — all produce.”

The 240-page report is available online.

The panel’s statement was hailed as important milestone in organic marketing by some advocates.

“It is monumental for organics, really,” said Barbara Hausman, spokeswoman for the Greenfield, Mass.-based Organic Trade Association.

“It is a boost to the whole consumer education efforts,” she said. "They didn’t say the word organic, but what they are signaling out when they are talking about what individual can do, basically they are describing organic agriculture."

Organic agriculture, with its requirements of certification and inspections, is the only farming systems that meets what the panel describes, Hausman said.