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Government-Backed Campaign Encourages Americans to Ignore Pesticides in Their Produce USDA Supports Smear Campaign Against "Dirty Dozen List" Government-Backed Campaign Encourages Americans to Ignore Pesticides in Their Produce USDA Supports Smear Campaign Against "Dirty Dozen List"

Government-Backed Campaign Encourages Americans to Ignore Pesticides in Their Produce USDA Supports Smear Campaign Against "Dirty Dozen List"

by Zak Stone
November 11, 2010


The United States Department of Agriculture is helping fund a public relations attack against a shopping guide that helps fruit eaters reduce their pesticide consumption. The Atlantic reports that the federal agency handed over $180,000 to an agribusiness backed nonprofit that just launched a "smear campaign" to delegitimize the "Dirty Dozen List," a publication put out by the Environmental Working Group, ranking fruits and vegetables by pesticide residue levels.

The Atlantic's article comes at a time of increased scrutiny over the USDA's conflicting role of agribusiness supporter and arbiter of proper nutrition. An article in The New York Times on Sunday describes the USDA's multi-million dollar marketing campaign to bolster dairy farmers by getting chain restaurants to use more cheese, while simultaneously sponsoring anti-obesity programs.

The main weapon of the anti-Dirty Dozen smear campaign is the new website SafeFruitsAndVeggies.com, published by the Alliance for Food and Farming, a special interest group funded by industrial agriculture groups including the California Strawberry Commission, The California Association of Pest Control Advisers, and Sunkist. The website reveals new scientific studies that reject the advice of the "Dirty Dozen List," calling the guide "(a) misleading to consumers, (b) an impediment to public health because it discourages consumption of fresh produce and (c) lacks scientific evidence that the pesticide levels found pose any risk."

However, as The Atlantic article shows, the "Dirty Dozen" guide encourages Americans to eat fruits and vegetables above all else. It's introduction declares:

Eat your fruits and vegetables! The health benefits of a diet rich in fruits and vegetables outweigh the risks of pesticide exposure. Use EWG's "Shopper's Guide to Pesticides" to reduce your exposures as much as possible, but eating conventionally-grown produce is far better than not eating fruits and vegetables at all.

Thus, the SafeFruitsAndVeggies.com's charges are an outright lie.

It's unsurprising that industrial agriculture would fight hard against a campaign that might damage sales of certain crops (celery, peaches, and strawberries claim spots one through three in the Dirty Dozen). The cattle industry even sued Oprah during the mid-ninety's mad cow disease hysteria when she announced her decision to stop eating beef products and sales subsequently fell.

Yet it seems odd that the USDA would throw its money behind this anti-information campaign. Ironically enough, the Dirty Dozen List took its data from USDA reports; thus the USDA is fighting against the implications of its own research. Furthermore, the "Dirty Dozen List" simply encourages consumers to make more educated shopping choices, not abandon consumption of produce. The little funded public service guide seems like an unlikely target for the the US Government.

Lastly,  the new SafeFruitsAndVeggies.com website is creepy. It even pulls out the "Mom knows best" card:

If you want to live a longer, healthier life and you want the same for your children, listen to your mom's advice ... [E]at a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables every day.  Don't let the Dirty Dozen list limit your choices and discourage you from enjoying your favorite fruit or vegetable grown by a caring farming family.

The website forgot to mention mom's other advice: Don't believe everything you read online.

Image (cc) by Flickr user jetsandzeppelins

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