Producers of fresh fruits and vegetables have a powerful ally – the Alliance for Food and Farming.
The Alliance works with experts from agriculture, government, science and nutrition to provide reliable and credible information about the safety of fresh fruits and vegetables.
A group of agricultural associations formed the Alliance in 1989 in response to a 60 Minutes piece about the pesticide Alar and its use on apples. It was originally called the Alliance for Food and Fiber because its membership included groups representing cotton producers in California.
Since 2004, the Alliance has focused much of its efforts on clarifying news coverage stemming from the Environmental Working Group’s annual “Shopper’s Guide,” with its so-called “Dirty Dozen” and “Clean Fifteen” lists that rank produce with various levels of detectable pesticide residues.
The Alliance has made a difference through its strategic Safe Fruits & Veggies initiative, launched in 2010 with the goal of correcting misinformation in those lists.
And the group has begun to move the needle. An analysis of media coverage during the past five years shows a dramatic change in the way media covers reports like the Dirty Dozen list.
“In a very short amount of time, the Alliance has been able to generate much more balanced reporting and positive stories about the health and safety of fruits and vegetables sold in the United States,” said Marilyn Dolan, AFF’s executive director. “Before the launch of Safe Fruits & Veggies, mainstream print and television media regularly covered the release of the EWG’s Dirty Dozen list with little or no counter-balancing information. Today, the EWG does not enjoy the wide media coverage its report used to generate. About half of the stories that do run contain either balanced information about the benefits of eating fruits and vegetables or they exclusively focus on positive benefits of consuming fruits and vegetables versus the negative messages disseminated by the EWG,” she said.
And when a potentially damaging report is published, the Alliance moves into action. One such report was a shopping guide issued last month by Consumers Union. Dolan said the report did not get widespread media coverage. “The Alliance staff was able to respond to every reporter who covered this new ‘list’ to provide them with resources for future articles on pesticide residues and produce,” Dolan said.
A highlight of Safe Fruits & Veggies is a pesticide level “calculator” posted on the safefruitsandveggies.com website that determines how many servings per day of conventionally produced fruits and vegetables are safe for children, teens and adults.
According to the calculator:
– A child could consume 154 servings of apples in one day without any effect even if the apples have the highest pesticide residue recorded for apples by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
– A teenager could eat 1,743 servings of strawberries in one day without any effect, even if the strawberries have the highest pesticide residue recorded for strawberries by USDA.
– A woman could eat 10,877 servings of lettuce in one day without any effect even if the lettuce has the highest pesticide residue recorded for lettuce by USDA.
Armed with science-based information, the Alliance staff and its produce industry members (including FFVA) use the Safe Fruits & Veggies initiative to talk about the facts related to the health and safety of products that U.S. farmers produce through outlets such as social media. Find the organization on Facebook here and on Twitter.
“We encourage interested parties to visit our website and follow our social media channels to learn more,” Dolan said. “You can also sign up to receive updates about the Safe Fruits & Veggies initiative on our website.
In addition, it publishes periodic blog posts and reaches out to reporters with helpful information.
The Alliance’s efforts are extremely important because of the continued difficulty in improving consumers’ dietary habits. A new peer-reviewed study conducted by the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future found that conflicting messages on food safety and nutrition may be hurting dietary choices, especially for people with lower incomes.
“The science is clear that the best advice for consumers is also the simplest – eat more conventional and organic produce for better health,” Dolan said.
“The work of the AFF on behalf of the produce industry to counter misinformation about our safe and healthy products is important for both consumers as well as the organic and conventional farmers we all proudly represent,” Stuart said. “I hope to use my years of experience in the produce industry to positively influence the AFF organization and help advance the goals of providing science-based, credible food safety information to consumers,” Stuart said.