USDA Pressured by Produce Industry on Pesticide Report
The U.S. Department of Agriculture, for the past two decades, has issued annual reports on the quantity of pesticide residue it was able to detect from samples of fresh vegetables and fruits across the country.
The data generated by the USDA is then used by the Environmental Protection Agency in monitoring exposure to pesticides, as well as to enforce federal standards designed to accord protection to infants, children and other people who are vulnerable.
However, the 200-page yearly report has been turned into a target by the produce industry for an unusual lobbying campaign. They say that the public may have misinterpreted the data generated.
According to 18 produce trade associations, in a letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, they lamented that the data have “been subject to misinterpretation by activists, which publicize their distorted findings through national media outlets in a way that is misleading for consumers and can be highly detrimental to the growers of these commodities.”
They are mainly concerned by an annual list called “The Dirty Dozen,” which is released by the Environmental Working Group. This organization is an advocacy group that generates rankings for fruits and vegetables according to their pesticide content. The group also creates rankings for produce having the least residue and calls this list “The Clean Fifteen.”
According to Ken Cook, the Environmental Working Group president, “Our list has been something that has really gotten under their skin. All we’re saying is, if you want to minimize your exposure to pesticides, shop from this list. And if you look at the explosion in the organic sector, it’s clear that people want to avoid pesticides if they can.”
The group started issuing the list about a decade ago, but for the produce industry, “The Dirty Dozen” list is fear-mongering.