(UPDATED COVERAGE, April 28) A study linking prenatal exposure to pesticides with lower intelligence in children uses outdated exposure measures and should not be the basis to reduce fruit and vegetable consumption, according to the Watsonville, Calif.-based Alliance for Food and Farming.

Recent studies examining the link between prenatal organophosphate pesticide exposure and somewhat diminished intelligence were conducted by researchers at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine, University of California-Berkeley’s School of Public Health, and Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health.

The study results have been publicized by the Washington, D.C.-based Environmental Working Group. The group’s senior analyst, Sonya Lunder, said the studies suggest that children remain at risk from organophosphate pesticides.

“I think it is great to have three studies come out looking at three different subpopulations in America at the same time period and finding consistent effects really heightens the attention to these studies, and appropriately so,” Lunder said.

According to the Alliance for Food and Farming, the University of California-Berkeley’s School of Public Health study looked at a snapshot of time more than a decade ago in its study, which involved pregnant women who lived or worked in the Salinas Valley.

Since the study began, the indoor home use of organophosphate pesticides has been discontinued, according to an alliance news release. That is important, because the Environmental Protection Agency states that home use of pesticides accounts for approximately 80% of a typical person’s exposure, according to the release.

Grower use of the most highly regulated chemicals in California dropped 60% from 2000-08, according to the alliance’s release.

What’s more, other studies have examined similar association between other factors and lower IQ or behavioral disorders. Those studies include the ill effects on health for children who do not consume enough fruits and vegetables, or children who consume too many processed foods, eat too much food dyes and ingest high levels of trans-fatty acids.

“Many of the studies seem to show the importance of proper nutrition for children and pregnant women,” according to the alliance news release.

Elizabeth Pivonka, president and CEO of the Produce for Better Health Foundation, said emerging research from experimental studies suggest fruits and vegetables may provide an even greater role in health.

“The bottom line is that, whether conventionally grown or organic, the benefits of eating fruits and vegetables are still indisputable,” Pivonka said in an e-mail.

The alliance, a group representing the agriculture industry, said U.S. growers operate under strict standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency, the Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Lunder said EWG does not recommend pregnant women avoid fruits and vegetables.

“EWG is always urging people to eat a complete diet during pregnancy,” she said. “We do use the pesticide monitoring data from the government to show people which crop have the least amount of pesticide residues on them.”

Lunder said consumers can eat the recommended servings of produce and choose from EWG’s “clean list” and get far fewer exposures to pesticide residues. Lunder said the organophosphate residues on fresh produce line up fairly closely to the total pesticide residues that EWG places on its “Dirty Dozen” and “Clean 15” lists.

Industry reacts

The fresh produce industry has several initiatives responding to the lists, and the media attention they garner.

Last year, the alliance launched www.safefruitsandveggies.com to provide “credible, science-based information to ease common fears about pesticide residues.”

The alliance plans to update the industry on its efforts through a free, one-hour Web seminar at 11 a.m. (PDT) May 10.

Participants can register online.

On April 27, the leaders of eighteen produce associations asked Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to prevent mischaracterization of pesticide residue data from the USDA’s upcoming release of the annual Pesticide Data Program (PDP) Summary report.

The Environmental Working Group has used that report for about a decade to create the Dirty Dozen list.

“We believe this report has, in previous years, been mischaracterized repeatedly by environmental activists and news media to the extent that it has discouraged people from consuming fresh produce,” according to the letter.

Signees include Washington, D.C.-based United Fresh Produce Association, Newark, Del.-based Produce Marketing Association and Irvine, Calif.-based Western Growers. The PDP report, according to the letter, will underscore the safety of consuming fruits and vegetables, but that it has been used to mislead consumers and “can be highly detrimental to the growers.”

“While USDA is not responsible for intentional mischaracterization by others, we strongly encourage USDA to provide the American public with a report that clearly reflects the strength of the regulatory system and the safety of products used to bring fresh fruits and vegetables to consumers,” according to the letter.

UPDATED: Pesticide study is outdated, alliance says