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WA County Recalls Consumer Pesticide Guide Under Industry Pressure

(Beyond Pesticides, August 13, 2008) Last month, King County, Washington discontinued a popular wallet-sized consumer guide in which fruits and vegetables containing the most and least pesticide residues were listed, after agricultural industry-sponsored groups claimed that the consumer guide was oversimplified, misleading and influencing consumers to not eat locally grown produce.

Industry groups repeatedly lobbied the county program to remove the information saying that the guide did not contribute to food safety but instead hurt local farmers, whose crops are among those that contain the most pesticides. The Local Hazardous Waste Management Program, a coalition of health and hazardous-materials agencies in King County, Seattle and 38 neighboring communities introduced the informational card about a year ago in printed form and soon after on the King County website.

“It is outrageous that the pesticide industry is trying to prevent people from getting information that will help them make healthier choices about their food. We urge King County to make the information available to the public,” said Ivy Sager-Rosenthal, environmental health advocate for the Washington Toxics Coalition.

The consumer guide lists suggestions on “how to shop for the safest household products” on one side of the card, and on the other lists produce into one of two columns, “High pesticide risks” and “Low pesticide risks.” The high pesticide risk column included produce such as apples, carrots and celery, while produce like asparagus, avocados and bananas were in the low pesticide risk column. The rankings came from data collected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Food and Drug Administration in 51,000 analyses for pesticides in 44 fruits and vegetables.

Washington Friends of Farms and Forest, which lobbied the county program to remove the information, stated that the consumer guide was “misleading” and “harmed local farmers by saying you shouldn’t buy apples and pears and peaches and the cherries,” all leading crops in Washington, but which contain higher amounts of pesticides. In fact, Washington Friends of Farms and Forest argues that the guide tells consumers, “Don’t eat locally grown stuff. Eat mangos and bananas.”

The guide, however, does not say to avoid buying local produce, and even lists a website sponsored by King County that contains maps and directions to farms and farmers markets in 12 surrounding counties. When asked why the guide is misleading, the group states that it is the role of the USDA and the FDA to tell consumers to have a healthy diet and that the guide does not contribute to food safety.

Program administrator for the Local Hazardous Waste Management Program, Jay Watson, said, “[T]he design of the card is flawed. The information was oversimplified. It doesn’t address the scientific uncertainly (of pesticides).” The USDA, however, stands behind the accuracy of its data which was collected after extensive testing and analysis, but cautioned it should not be taken as an indicator of what exists on all crops everywhere. Mr. Watson noted that no more guides would be printed or distributed until the issue has been studied and input solicited, including comments from the agriculture community.

Many farmers and growers are angered at the interpretation often made of government-collected data, which have sprouted similar consumer guides across the country. Washington growers of apples, pears, peaches and other crops have conceded that such data have greatly reduced the amount and types of pesticides they use.

TAKE ACTION: Buy organic foods for yourself and your family whenever possible. If organic foods are not easily accessible to you due to cost or distribution, consider buying organic for the foods you eat the most. To make sure your food is organic, look for the USDA Organic label.

See the consumer guide here.

Source: Seattle Post Intelligencer


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