ORLANDO, Fla. — Recent media reports questioning the safety of fruits and vegetables protected with pesticides have damaged consumer confidence.
According to a recent study by the Produce Marketing Association and the Hartman Group, 29% of consumers say they have stopped or reduced buying fresh produce because of pesticide concerns. That’s up from 18% in 2008, attendees of the Fresh Summit 2010 workshop “The Truth about Pesticides” learned Oct. 15.
“Our products are being maligned,” moderator Matt McInerney, executive vice president of Irvine, Calif.-based Western Growers and chairman of the Watsonville, Calif.-based Alliance for Food and Farming’s board of directors said, referring to the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen list of produce items.
“The Dirty Dozen is an impediment to good health because it discourages consumption,” said panelist Richard Reiss, president for the Society of Risk Analysis and one of five toxicology and nutrition experts who drafted a report for the alliance assessing the scientific basis of the Dirty Dozen ranking.
He said a chief fallacy of the list is confusing the issue between pesticide toxicity and overall exposure and that there is little solid epidemiology on the health effects of pesticide exposure through consumption.
“There’s overwhelming benefit versus risk, Reiss said, adding that studies EWG cites about pesticide risk look at environmental and occupational exposure rather than dietary exposure.
Panelist Carl Keen, professor of nutrition and internal medicine at the University of California-Davis, cautioned marketers whose products aren’t listed among the Dirty Dozen aren’t safe either, saying that it’s a moving target because detectable levels of pesticides can change.
To help educate the public about the reality of pesticide risk and eating fresh produce, AFF has developed a smart phone app (www.safefruitsandveggies.com) where consumers can see how many servings — multiple thousands in most cases — of a selected fruit or vegetable it would take to reach even a minimal risk level, said panelist Lorna Christie, PMA executive vice president and chief operating officer.