WASHINGTON--(ENEWSPF)--May 16 - For roughly two decades, the US Department of Agriculture has tested various fruits and vegetables for pesticide residues, usually making its findings available to the public in January. More than four months into the year, results for USDA’s 2010 tests have yet to be released.
Scientists at the Environmental Working Group rely that data to compile the EWG Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides, which ranks produce according the amount of residues each type carries in the USDA tests.
EWG President Ken Cook and several of the nation’s top physicians and scientists wrote to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson and Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Margaret Hamburg urging them to no longer delay the release of the most recent test results. The letter also calls on the officials to bolster the government’s research into the adverse health effects of pesticides, particularly on children.
“We are writing to urge you to release the latest data on pesticide residues on fruits and vegetables frequently eaten by babies and children. These data, which the government normally releases by January each year, are overdue,” the group wrote. “Children are uniquely sensitive to harmful effects from pesticides. Yet they eat substantial quantities of certain fresh fruits and vegetables – apples, berries, peaches, for example – proven to contain multiple pesticide residues. We urge you to expand testing programs and share ample information with the public about pesticides in all produce, especially those that show up in children’s diets.”
Research has shown that a number of pesticides can cause persistent problems to children's brain development. Three recent studies showed that children born to mothers with significant pesticide exposures had IQ deficits, including one study that found a seven-point drop.
Despite such findings, the produce lobby has aggressively pressured the Obama administration to combat public unease about pesticides’ effects. According to press reports, trade groups representing conventional produce growers urged USDA Secretary Vilsack in April to prevent “mischaracterization” of the agency’s pesticide residue data. This was one of a series of efforts by the industry to limit public access to this information.
As part of its efforts to quell public fears over pesticides, the industry convinced California’s Department of Agriculture to award an $180,000 federal taxpayer-funded grant to support the front group Alliance for Food and Farming, which claims that misuse of the pesticide data is to blame for decreased consumption of fruits and vegetables.
“It is shocking in 2011 to see major produce companies in a public bear hug with the pesticide lobby,” said EWG president Ken Cook. “Consumers would be right to wonder if these big produce interests are selling fruits and vegetables, or pesticides,” Cook added.
“Using EWG’s guide, USDA’s own data make it easy for consumers to eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables while dramatically reducing pesticide exposure,” Cook said. ”It turns out that is exactly what consumers want—more produce, less pesticide. Trying to convince consumers otherwise may play well with international pesticide companies like Monsanto and Dow,” said Cook. “It is not going to play in the checkout line.”
EWG has filed a Freedom of Information Act request for all of USDA’s recent communications with produce and pesticide industry representatives to shed light on whether the AFF taxpayer-funded marketing grant has been improperly used to support the lobbying efforts of AFF members.
- Speed the release of the latest data on pesticide residues in produce.
- Make the FDA’s Total Diet Study and USDA's Pesticide Data Program more informative and transparent.
- Test annually all fresh produce commonly eaten by children, especially products likely to carry significant pesticide residues and release the results immediately.
- Conduct more extensive dietary studies to assess the risks to children who eat pesticide-carrying produce.
- Expand monitoring of pesticide residues on imported foods.
- Tighten regulations governing pesticide residues on food crops to ensure “reasonable certainty of no harm” to children and others most sensitive to their effects.
- Enhance efforts to promote organic fruits and vegetables as options for consumers concerned about pesticide exposure.
Those on the letter include Phil Landrigan, MD, Director, Children’s Environmental Health Center and Dean of Global Health at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine; Alan Greene, MD, with Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford University; Harvey Karp, MD Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at USC School of Medicine; Andrew Weil, MD Founder and Director, Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine, Professor of Public Health, University of Arizona; Charles Benbrook, Chief Scientist, The Organic Center; Chensheng (Alex) Lu, PhD, Assistant Professor of Environmental Exposure at Harvard School of Public Health; Robin M. Whyatt, DrPH, Professor of Clinical Environmental Health Sciences Columbia University’s School of Public Health; Frederica P. Perera, DrPH, Director, Columbia University’s Center for Children’s Environmental Health and EWG president Ken Cook.