The USDA issues a report each year disclosing the amount of pesticide residues it finds on fresh fruits and vegetables.
This year, conventional fruit and vegetable growers and the interest groups they have created are lobbying the USDA to add cautionary language to the annual report suggesting that the pesticide levels being found are within the limits set by the Environmental Protection Agency. These interest groups are worried that consumers’ concern over pesticide residues on their fruits and vegetables are growing at an alarming rate.
The problem? If you listen to the words the interest groups use, it’s that the USDA’s report, and the media’s publicizing of the report, discourages people from buying fruits and vegetables.
That is a legitimate concern. 18% of people surveyed this year cited pesticides as a reason they don’t buy more fruits and vegetables than they do. A quarter of people surveyed said they were highly concerned about pesticides.
We certainly don’t need people buying and eating less fresh produce than they currently do. If anything, I would support government policies that increase fruit and vegetable consumption, particularly by shifting agricultural subsidies and tax incentives in favor of lowering the price of these items, rather than continuing to support genetically modified corn and soybeans that are grown with pesticides and used primarily as animal feed and as ingredients in the heavily processed foods Americans are eating more and more of.
But the disconnect between consumers’ concern over pesticides and the conventional food producers’ reaction is that there’s a third way. We can grow fruits and vegetables without using chemical pesticides. And more and more Americans are realizing that. Organic food, which by law must be grown without the use of chemical pesticides and herbicides, now makes up about 12% of the U.S. market for fresh produce. That’s an enormous increase for an organic industry that lacked official government standards as recently as 1990.
So it may be that conventional producers are worried not that Americans will stop buying fruits and vegetables, but that they’ll stop buying “conventional” fruits and vegetables grown with the pesticides that studies increasingly show are compromising our health.
Fortunately, the USDA appears to be resisting the conventional growers’ pressure to add language tamping down the message on pesticides. Let’s see what happens when the report finally comes out.
Are you concerned about pesticides in your food?