“Dirty Dozen” List Coverage Drops to All-Time Low

From: SafefruitsandVeggies.com

The authors of the so-called “Dirty Dozen” list made a serious miscalculation with the release of this list during the pandemic. If the authors thought they could capitalize on escalating food safety fears among consumers as a means to gain increased attention and coverage for their list, they were seriously wrong.

Upon learning of the pending release, the Alliance for Food and Farming (AFF) used its consumer-facing outreach tools to communicate that this list is not only scientifically unsupportable, but hurts consumers because it’s fear-based messaging may be discouraging the purchase of any produce – organic or conventionally grown. We also posted an open letter asking the list authors to put the needs of consumers first and cancel the list release. While we always aggressively defend the safety of all produce, this year the AFF was even more strident because it was so important to reassure consumers about produce safety under these unprecedented circumstances.

And we had some crucial help. Among the AFF’s biggest advantages in recent years has been our involvement with the dietitian/nutrition community. We alerted this audience immediately upon learning about the list release, shared our messaging and reminded them about the safety information and resources available at safefruitsandveggies.com.

Their reaction to the list release was not just frustration, but outrage that a group would promote unwarranted safety fears of these healthy, immune-boosting foods during this pandemic. They took over social media conversations, advanced AFF messaging, linked to our website information, wrote blogs and articles and conducted media interviews effectively chasing and shaming the list authors from their own dialogue and promotion.

The result of all outreach efforts was that mainstream media coverage declined by a staggering 70% from the previous year. This drop is even more significant when you consider that we had already seen a consistent downward trend of coverage over time. And, for the first time, total media coverage carrying AFF messaging exclusively outpaced stories featuring one-sided content from the list authors.

But despite the results from AFF campaign efforts, our work must continue. In an AFF survey of dietitians and nutritionists, 94% agreed that fear based messaging, like the “dirty dozen” list, is having a negative impact on their ability to increase produce consumption among their clients and consumers.

This “fear barrier” could go away quickly if groups and organizations would stop disparaging the more affordable and accessible forms of produce to advance one production method over another. And if we join together to support consumer choice whether they prefer to purchase organic and/or conventionally grown fruits and vegetables since both forms are healthy and safe. This change would be a win for consumers and a win for public health.

Alliance for Food and Farming Supports Industry

Alliance for Food and Farming Works Hard for the Produce Industry

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Editor

Since 1989, the Alliance for Food and Farming based in Watsonville has constantly been on guard for the national produce industry. They fight against misinformation on conventional farming, all while supporting organic production.

Teresa Thorne has been with the Alliance since it began and now serves as Executive Director. She is assisted in all aspects of running the non-profit organization by Rosi Gong. These two women share respect and admiration for the farmers who work diligently every day to bring healthy fruits and vegetables to our table.

Teresa Thorne

The Alliance is a nationwide organization representing growers and shippers in California, the Northwest, Texas, Florida, and other states.

Top of mind at the Alliance is the Environmental Working Group (EWG), which will soon release its Dirty Dozen list of popular fruit and vegetables that they deem the public should not eat due to crop protection material contamination. Furthermore, they recommend that consumers only eat organic food.

The EWG list has come out since 1995, and the Alliance has debunked it with facts.

“We work diligently to put factual information out, to help consumers make the right choices for their families in the produce aisle,” Thorne said. “For the EWG to call healthy and safe conventionally grown produce dirty is really unconscionable and has no scientific basis.”

The Alliance wants the consumer to choose what is affordable, choose what’s accessible and buy it where it’s most convenient but choose to eat more every day, for better health and longer life.

The EWG is incentivized to promote organics, and because they are a multi-million dollar organization, they are able to get to the press.

“We are not even close to the budget they have, and we are always puzzled and surprised when they constantly refer to us,” Thorne said.

In fact, the EWG always refers to the Alliance as a front group that represents big farmers who produce both organic and conventional fruits and vegetables.

“If you want to call us a front group for farmers, it’s okay. But to try and categorize us as this big organization, we’re not, but what we have on our side is science and experts in the areas of nutrition, farming, toxicology and risk analysis,” Thorne explained.

“It’s interesting that the EWG has never questioned our science, and they’ve never questioned any of the content on our website, www.safefruitsandveggies.com. And it’s largely because they can’t, so they’re only real road is to try and discredit the organization carrying it,” Thorne continued. “That’s why they make allegations of us being a front group. But they are very much incentivized to promote organics; there’s no doubt about it. And again, that’s why they’re a multi-million dollar organization, and has celebrities as their spokespersons, and we don’t.”

And of course it is okay to promote organic food, but not at the expense of conventionally-grown produce.

“EWG is one-sided. It promotes organically-grown produce, yet maligns conventionally-grown produce—outright saying it’s unhealthy. That’s the crutch of the Dirty Dozen list,” Thorne explained.

“We strongly advocate organic as well as conventional production. We’re advocates for all fruit and vegetable production,” Thorne said.

The Alliance is also an advocate for consumer choice in the marketplace for conventional or organic produce, whether you prefer to buy at your favorite warehouse store, small grocery store, or farmer’s market. The Alliance wants consumers to have the choice of fruits and vegetables no matter how it’s grown.

The Alliance also interacts with consumers on social media, and many are confused as what they should be eating.

“We see a lot of confused consumers in our social media, and many consumers go to our website and sign up for informational food safety emails from us,” Thorne said.

“And that’s why we try and provide information for consumers on our website from nutritionist about the importance of eating fruits and vegetables and from farmers about how they preserve food safety and really … [get] that message across,” Thorne said. “We want consumers to know that the farmer’s first consumer is their own family. So food safety is obviously a top priority for them.”

Crop Protection: U.S. Food System Very Safe

Crop Protection Products are Highly Regulated

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Editor

There’s no need to worry about crop protection products when you consume food, fruits and vegetables, and all the rest, as the materials are highly regulated.

“Chemicals are all around us. In fact, we are all made of chemicals, so the fear of chemicals is unnecessary. Chemicals can actually be very beneficial,” said Dr. Eliza Dunn, Medical Sciences and Outreach Lead for Bayer Crop Science. “Chemicals make antibiotics and vaccines, and all of that is really important because it’s in public health, and they also protect the food supply.”

And here’s a fact: Pesticides a more heavily regulated that antibiotics that we take and those antibiotics and other pharmaceuticals are highly regulated.

“You have to do lots of testing to get your pharmaceutical in the market. Testing and monitoring pesticides are the same way. Pesticides come up for reevaluation every 15 years, and they look at all of the data that’s involved in that 15 years to make sure there’s nothing new that can be concerning for human health,” Dunn explained.

“These agencies have the best interests of people at heart. I wouldn’t feed my kids something that I thought was worrisome. And I feed my kids fruits, vegetables, and other foods, and I don’t worry about the residues because it’s not going to cause harm,” she said.

Dunn also commented on the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen List that they release each summer.

“It’s very unfortunate because it winds up causing people to get very worried about their food supply, and you can be absolutely reassured that the food supply in this country is safe and healthy and nutritious,” said Dunn. “We are so lucky to have access to such a fabulous food supply because there are other places in the world that don’t have access to that, and it’s because we have things like crop protection products that make sure that we have an access to that kind of food supply.”

As for the EWG’s statements that certain fruits have higher residues?

“That’s misinformation, unfortunately. They’re not toxic. We know that fruits and vegetables are healthy. If you are worried about residues, you can wash them off. It’s really fear-mongering, and that is irresponsible,” Dunn said.

Science Trumps Dirty Dozen Produce List

Science Based Data Pushes Back

on Dirty Dozen Produce List


By Patrick Cavanaugh, editor

Marilyn Dolan
Marilyn Dolan, Executive Director of Alliance for Food and Farming

The Environmental Working Group, which issues what they call the Dirty Dozen Produce list each year, has gotten major pushback by science based produce companies.

“The dirty dozen list is produced by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) and it tells people about the 12 top commodities, that are the most pesticide contaminated of all fruits and vegetables, said Marilyn Dolan, Executive Director of the Alliance for Food & Farming, based in Watsonville, Calif.  “They tell consumers  ‘what they should do for those 12 items is to buy organic, and not conventional, because the conventional is laden with pesticides’”

However the Alliance for Food & Farming think the EWG is totally off-base and needed to be pushed back with facts. “The Alliance feels that this is fear-based marketing and doesn’t encourage consumption of fruits and vegetables and scares consumers,” said Dolan.

“We have launched a program to educate the media and others about the facts behind pesticide residues and the fact that residues are so low that consumers should just eat fruits and vegetables,” Dolan said. “It doesn’t matter if the fruits and vegetables are organic or conventional, because they are all safe and good for consumers.”

In 2010 the Alliance launched a campaign called safe fruits and veggies initiative and they also launched a website that is designed to give consumers credible science-based information about the safety of fruits and vegetables. “There is all kinds of information there, including scientific reports, and interactive tools that can be used,” said Dolan.

“There is also a pesticide residue calculator, which can be used to show consumers that they can eat up to 56,000 servings of carrots and there would be no health impacts from pesticides on them because they are so, so small,” she said.

The website for this information is http://www.safefruitsandveggies.com

Dolan noted that the media listened to the facts. “Before 2010 when we launched our safe fruits and veggies program, the media usually ran the dirty dozen list every year, and never provided any counter-balance.”

“However, once we decided to educate the media about this information, we found that they responded to it really well and they started looking at the information that was presented. And for the most part they just quit talking about the issue of pesticide residues. This is because they could see from our website that the information was there to counter this dirty dozen list,” she noted.

Dolan said that it became harder for the media to cover the story, and fortunately for everyone they opted to not cover it so much any more. “There has been a drastic reduction on the coverage of the dirty dozen every year when it’s released.

One of the big messages on the website is that strict government regulations are in place in the U.S. and extremely healthy-protective. “There are all kinds of systems from the EPA setting safety tolerances, to the USDA and the State Departments, who monitor actual residues on fruits and vegetables to make sure that they are not over safety limits.

“And consistently these government agencies find that fruits and vegetables sold in the U.S. are extremely safe, that they usually have no pesticide residues on them at all, and if they do, they are very, very small,” said Dolan. “They repeatedly assure Americans that fruits and vegetables are safe to eat and health experts around the world are telling people that they should be eating more fruits and vegetables.”