Facts Not Fear on Growing Produce

Understanding Salinas Valley Farming Practices

By Jessica Theisman, Associate Editor

Among the mix of registered dietitians conveying the accurate message, California Ag Today concluded our conversation about Facts Not Fear with Teresa Thorn, executive director of the Alliance for Food and Farming, located in Watsonville.

The Alliance hosted the second Facts Not Fear produce safety media tour, in conjunction with Markon Cooperative, for registered dieticians, health and nutrition writers, and bloggers last month in the Salinas Valley. Impacting the customer with the proper information is key.

Teresa Thorn

“We have a mix of writers and bloggers who again have that bullhorn to consumers,” Thorn said.

Social media was also used in conveying the message.

“They’re posting, and we’ve read it and retweeted a lot of their stuff so you can go to our social channels and see some of it,” she explained.

Speaking to growers was very important, and asking industry professionals to attend was vital to cultivating relationships.

“They loved being out in the field. We were always the last ones to get on the bus because they had so many questions,” Thorn said.

The group also does a roundtable discussion where they bring in scientists, shafts, regulators, farmers, and farming companies into the room at Markon’s Produce Expo.

“Building that network was really important,” Thorn said.

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“Facts Not Fear” Tour Brings Consumers One Step Closer to the Farm

“Facts Not Fear” Produce Safety Media Tour Helps Bloggers Learn About Ag

By Mikenzi Meyers, Associate Editor

Closing the gap between the consumer and the farm is a continuous work in progress. Teresa Thorne, Executive Director of the Alliance for Food and Farming, is dedicated to making this happen. She helped put on the second “Facts Not Fear” Produce Safety Media Tour for registered dietitians, health and nutrition writers, and bloggers recently in the Salinas Valley, which directly focused on consumer concerns.

The “Fact Not Fear” tour allowed media influencers to see farming practices first hand, in hopes that they would share the information learned with the consumers that follow them.

Teresa Thorne

“We look at them to kind of be the consumer eyes and ears and really learn more about how we produce food,” Thorne explained.

Thorne also noted that one of the main topics brought up during the round table discussion was the great “organic versus conventional farming” debate. “The farmers that were there did a great job of talking about the fact that there’s actually more similarities than differences,” she said.

In a consumer-driven industry, educating people has never been more crucial.

“For them to come out and see firsthand what we do, and then share that back with those consumers and be able to address their concerns directly, it’s just really important for us.”

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Fear-Based Messaging Reduces Produce Consumption – Both Organic and Conventional

New Study Finds Fear-Based Produce Safety Messaging Negatively Impacts Low Income Consumers’ Produce Consumption

 

New peer reviewed research, “Low-Income Shoppers and Fruit and Vegetables: What Do They Think?” published in Nutrition Today, shows fear-based messaging tactics used by activist groups and some organic marketers that invoke safety concerns about non-organic produce may be having a negative impact on produce consumption—fruits and veggies—among low income consumers, according to the Alliance for Food and Farming (AFF).Alliance for Food and Farming logo

Researchers at the Illinois Institute of Technology’s (IIT) Center for Nutrition Research surveyed low income consumers to learn more about what terms and information about fruits and vegetables may influence their shopping intentions. Among the key findings, misleading messaging which inaccurately describes certain fruits and vegetables as having “higher” pesticide residues results in low income shoppers reporting that they would be unlikely to purchase any fruits and vegetables – organically or non-organically grown.

illinois-institute-of-technology-institute-for-food-safety-and-health“We were surprised to see how informational content that named specific fruits and vegetables as having the highest pesticide residues increased the percentage of shoppers who said they would be unlikely to purchase any type of fruits and vegetables,” says Britt Burton-Freeman, associate professor of food science and nutrition, ITT’s Center for Nutrition Research. “The concern is that depending on the structure of the communication about pesticides and fruits and vegetables, this could turn people away from wanting to purchase any fresh produce.”

“Despite efforts by the health community, consumption of fruits and vegetables is stagnating,” says Elizabeth Pivonka, Ph.D, R.D. and president, Produce for Better Health Foundation. “This new study shows what we have been concerned about for some time, that safety fears may be another barrier to consumption of these healthy and nutritious foods. The impact of the fear-based messaging on low income consumers is especially troubling since many don’t have access or can’t afford non-Produce for Better Health, produce consumptionorganic produce.”

The findings are also concerning since the safety claims carried predominantly by groups like the Environmental Working Group (EWG) and Only Organic about pesticide residues have been repeatedly proven to be scientifically inaccurate. For the last 20 years, EWG annually releases a so-called “dirty dozen” list which urges consumers to eat only organic versions of popular produce items accompanied by misleading and unscientific claims regarding pesticide residue levels. A peer reviewed analysis of EWG’s list entitled, Dietary Exposure to Pesticide Residues from Commodities Alleged to Contain the Highest Contamination Levels and published by AFF showed that substitution of organic forms of produce for non-organic produce did not result in any decrease in risk because residue levels are so minute on these fruits and vegetables, if they are present at all.

“Their tactic clearly isn’t working and it’s actually backfiring since this research shows that consumers may react to their message by deciding not to buy any produce at all – organic or non-organic,” says Teresa Thorne of the AFF. “For the benefit of consumers, especially low income consumers, this study shows it is time for groups like EWG to rethink their strategy for promoting organics and move away from tactics intended to scare consumers from buying the more affordable and accessible produce items,” Thorne says.

john-hopkins-bloomberg-school-of-public-healthThis IIT research compliments the peer reviewed study by John Hopkins University’s Center for a Livable Future, They Just Say Organic Food Is Healthier”: Perceptions of Healthy Food among Supermarket Shoppers in Southwest Baltimore,” published in January 2015 [orig. Dec. 2014] in the journal, Culture, Agriculture, Food and Environment. Those researchers conducted interviews with study participants to learn more about the way organic food is understood within consumers’ definitions of healthy food. John Hopkins researchers also focused on low income consumers because “this group is particularly important demographically given the disparate burden of diet-related diseases they carry and the frequency of diet-related messages they receive.”

The study authors also found conflicting health and safety messages, including those about pesticide residues, were having a negative impact on consumers. Among their findings and recommendations: “The issue of organic can swamp or compete with other messages about nutrition, as evidenced by the data presented here. Perceiving that there is an overwhelming amount of sometimes contradictory information about healthy eating could make some consumers defeatist about trying to eat healthily. Given the potential implications of competing messages about healthy eating, it is important that those who want to improve food production techniques and those who want to improve nutrition cooperate to create consistent messaging about healthy eating.”

Dr. Burton-Freeman reached a similar conclusion. “Hearing that the majority of shoppers in this survey trust dietitians/nutritionists, scientists and physicians for health and safety information about fresh fruits and vegetables, this is an important opportunity for these professionals working in low-income populations. It is an opportunity to educate shoppers about organic and conventionally grown produce, particularly about best practices for washing, storing and preparing all fruits and vegetables to maximize their enjoyment and nutritional value and minimize their confusion and safety concerns.”

“Hopefully the peer-reviewed research from IIT and John Hopkins will have an impact on groups like EWG especially since the science clearly shows both organic and non-organic produce is very safe and can be eaten with confidence,” AFF’s Thorne says. “And, decades of nutritional research primarily conducted using non-organic produce shows that a plant rich diet leads to better health and a longer life. So choose either or both organic or non-organic produce, but choose to eat more every day.”


The Alliance for Food and Farming (AFF) is a non-profit organization formed in 1989 which represents organic and conventional farmers and farms of all sizes.  Alliance contributors are limited to farmers of fruits and vegetables, companies that sell, market or ship fruits and vegetables or organizations that represent produce farmers.  AFF’s mission is to deliver credible information to consumers about the safety of all fruits and vegetables.  AFF does not engage in lobbying nor does it accept any money or support from the pesticide industry.  In the interest of transparency, AFF’s entire 2011 tax return is posted on safefruitsandveggies.com.


See also:

Scared Fat: Are Consumers Being Scared Away from Healthy Foods?

Individuals May Consider Organic an Important Factor When Defining Healthy Food

University College of London: Eating 7 or More Servings Reduces Risk of Premature Death by 42%

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Dirty Dozen…Really?

Dirty Dozen Does Disservice

 

Following the April 12, 2016 release of the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) annual Dirty Dozen list, Teresa Thorne, a spokesperson with the Watsonville-based Alliance For Food and Farming, a non-profit organization which exists to deliver credible information to consumers about the safety of fruits and vegetables, conversed with California Ag Today’s Patrick Cavanaugh, farm news director and deputy editor,

California Ag Today: Let’s talk a little about the Dirty Dozen list that the EWG just published for 2016.

DPR on Food Safety
DPR on Food Safety

Thorne: They’ve been doing this for 20 years now, and it is concerning to us because they’re putting out misinformation about the safety of conventionally grown produce. We know that the products on this list are among the most popular among families, especially children. EWG targets them, and their efforts really scare moms and consumers away from conventionally grown. It makes no sense to us; I mean, both organic and conventionally grown are very safe. We should all be consuming more every day for better health. That’s really the message for consumers. This list—all it does is serve to confuse people.

California Ag Today: It’s all a big scare tactic to try to get everybody to think that only organic food is safe, right?

fruits&veggies more matters logo
Fruits & Veggies – More Matters

Thorne: We strongly believe that organic food is very safe, but we maintain the same for conventional. And it’s interesting also too, because in a recent study that really focused on Manhattan, the researchers found—and we did blog about this—that organic was not as available as they had previously thought. So, what happens to the mom who wants to buy strawberries for her child’s lunch, but only conventional strawberries are available? Now she’s scared because of what EWG has stated in really inflammatory language this year—over the top. Now what is she supposed to do? Her store doesn’t carry organic strawberries. Availability is very much an issue, as well accessibility and affordability. Conventionally grown still is the most accessible and affordable [produce]. So, to scare people away from that really does a disservice to consumers.

California Ag Today: Yes, and food safety experts from the USDA and California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR), a department of the California Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), agree that any small risk from the trace [below legal thresholds set by the EPA] levels of pesticides found in fresh produce should not keep you from the health benefits of a diet rich in fruits and vegetables. DPR tracks food for pesticide residues, and they find 99 percent of all the fruits and vegetables grown in California—whether they’re organic or conventional—are safe to eat and we should be eating more of them.

Thorne: Absolutely, and that’s what’s also interesting; EWG—and we’ve called them on this in the past and they still have not changed—does not link, in their report, directly to USDA studies. They state over and over that they base their results on this USDA Agricultural Marketing pesticide data program (USDA PDP), but they don’t link to it. In what world do you not link to a study that, you basically state, you base your entire Dirty Dozen list upon? We find that quite odd.

We think the reason they don’t link is this simple: People will see that the USDA clearly states that residues do not pose a food safety concern. And that is in direct contrast to what [the EWG is] saying.

California Ag Today: Of course, if we wash the fruits and vegetables we eat, it helps. We should always wash produce to get the dirt off and talk about food safety in our own kitchens.

SafeFruitsandVeggies logoThorne: That’s right. Conventional and organic alike, wash them before you eat them. It’s a healthful habit that everybody should follow for various reasons. And the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) clearly states that you can reduce or eliminate any residues that may be present on fruits and vegetables, simply by washing.

California Ag Today: One last question, Teresa. You’ve been terrific. The EWG has been losing some strength in their message over the years because the media is getting sharper and better at challenging the contradictions in their reports. We’ve got the Alliance for Food and Farming’s new SafeFruitsAndVeggies website now, and you guys are reaching out to the media, saying “Let’s be reasonable; let’s look at this from a scientific point of view, not an emotional point of view.” Do you want to comment on that? While they’re not being picked up as much anymore, they keep trying, now with strawberries at the top of the list, right?Strawberries1

Thorne: Yes, we think they’re using the tactic of putting another kid-popular fruit to re-spark interest. In fact, we predicted it in a blog a few weeks ago, in which we said interest from the media is declining because more reporters and bloggers are actually reading the USDA PDP report, seeing what it says. So, we actually predicted in our blog that they would do something like this. Our number one prediction was they would have a new number one on their list, and it would, of course, be a kid-popular fruit.

So, it will be interesting to see. We’re still early on in the process to see if they have had any success with that, but we believe that that was a tactic [EWG] tried to employ to revive very lagging media coverage on this list. They used to enjoy widespread media coverage back in the day.

__________________________

Resources:

Setting Tolerances for Pesticide Residues in FoodsUnited States EPA

Pesticide info: What You Should Know About Pesticides, “Pesticides and Food: How We Test for Safety,” California Department of Pesticide Regulation

The Pesticide Data Program: Helping Monitor the Safety of America’s Food SupplyUSDA Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS)

Pesticide Residue Calculator, Alliance for Food and Farming

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EWG’s “Dirty Dozen” Contradicts Its Own “Food Scores”

Teresa Thorne Speaks Against EWG’s “Dirty Dozen” List

By Charmayne Hefley, Associate Editor

There are constant concerns plaguing consumers about the safety of the foods they eat. As a result, consumers turn to the internet as a way to educate themselves, and oftentimes visit sites such as the Environmental Working Group (EWG) for information. Teresa Thorne of the Alliance for Food and Farming (AFF) said EWG is self-contradictory in its statements of food safety.

“Nine months ago, the Environmental Working Group released the Food Scores database which ranks organic and conventional fruits and vegetables among the best foods for consumers and urges them to eat more,” Thorne said.

And, EWG published the following statement on its website:

No, eat your fruits and vegetables! The health benefits of a diet rich in fruits and vegetables outweigh the risks of pesticide exposure. Eating conventionally grown produce is far better than skipping fruits and vegetables.

“So it’s ironic that four or five months later,” Thorne continued, “they released their Dirty Dozen list again and called those same conventionally grown fruits and vegetables they just said were safe and that consumers should be eat more of, ‘dirty’ and ‘toxin-laden’ in the new release.”

In addition, EWG reports widespread pesticide contamination among many conventionally grown fruits and vegetables with the explanation that a number of pesticides are EPA-approved for each crop, pesticides have been detected in produce and the USDA data reflects these findings. Elsewhere on their website, EWG acknowledges nearly all analyzed samples (99%) did not contain pesticide residues above legal limits—U.S. EPA safety levels or tolerances. EWG counters with an unsupported statement that ‘legal isn’t always safe’.

When the EWG released their food scores database, the AFF commended the group on finally adopting the same message as health experts. Thorne said AFF requested the EWG stop confusing consumers through their ‘Dirty Dozen’ list.

“We called on EWG when they published the Food Scores database to stop issuing the Dirty Dozen list,” Thorne said. “It’s conflicting information and it only confuses consumers.”

Thorne said not only do decades of scientific research back up the safety of consuming conventionally grown produce, the research shows that eating more fruits and vegetables in general prevents disease and premature death.

AFF reports on its website:

Recent research has shown that around 29% of consumers are not purchasing fruits and vegetables due to concerns about pesticide residues. Further, the Centers for Disease Control recently issued a report that consumption of fruits and vegetables continues to decline.

EWG proclaims, “We definitely recommend eating produce from the Dirty Dozen™ list rather than foods or snacks that are not as healthful, such as fat-, sugar- or additive-laden processed products.” Nonetheless, the deterrent name of their list remains unchanged.

“There’s so much research out there,” Thorne said, “that shows the benefit of eating more fruits and vegetables in your diet—both organic and conventionally grown produce. That’s what the message should be for consumers instead of this conflicting information on safe vs. not safe. It’s really inaccurate and unfair. Conventional and organic fruits and vegetables are safe. We should all be eating more. Let’s work together to get that message out to consumers.”

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Alliance Against Food and Farmer Disparagement

The Alliance for Food and Farming Counters Food and Farmer Disparagement

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Laurie Greene and Courtney Steward, CaliforniaAgToday

Experts around the world agree that eating more fruits and vegetables is the best thing we can do to reduce disease, prevent obesity, and improve our health. But sometimes consumers need to know more about organic and conventional fruits and vegetables so they can make the right shopping choices for themselves and their families.

The Alliance for Food and Farming (AFF), based in Watsonville, is a non-profit organization comprised of both organic and conventional farmers that delivers credible information to consumers about the safety of organic and conventional fruits and vegetables.

According to Teresa Thorne, with AFF, “Many organizations such as Friends of the Earth (FOE), and the Environmental Working Group (EWG) are at odds with AFF for providing science-based and peer-reviewed information to consumers so they can make good shopping choices for their families.”

Friends of the Earth logo“Whether consumers purchase organic or conventional produce, both are safe,” Thorne said. “Health experts say simply that we should be eating more. Decades of nutrition science and health experts everywhere support the recommendation to eat more organic and conventional produce every day for better health. So, it is a little puzzling why FOE and some of the other activist groups would be concerned about that message. But, apparently they are.”

“So, what we are trying to do,” explained Thorne “is present accurate and more balanced information for consumers. Our Board of Directors, nearly 7 years ago, established that calling our healthy and safe produce “dirty” or “toxic” has to stop. We are not going to allow the disparagement of these nutritious products and the disparagement of the farmers who are working hard every single day to provide these healthy products to consumers, to stand.”

Thorne said, “So, AFF got in gear to stop it, largely by going toe-to-toe with the EWG’s so-called ‘Dirty Dozen’ list—one of the main vehicles of product disparagement. Not long ago, when the EWG published the list, nearly all newspapers, television networks and cable channels gave it widespread media coverage in major media markets and publications.”

AFF has achieved some success by introducing peer-reviewed science from experts into consumer media, with the credible message that both organic and conventional produce are safe, healthful, and people should eat more of them every day. “Just in the course of the last six years of the campaign,” said Thorne, “we’ve seen coverage of the EWR list diminish to the extent that in 2015, only one daily newspaper in Ohio covered the story. So their message is mostly limited to blogs for those who are very friendly to their message.”

ewg logo

 

Aside from the “Dirty Dozen” list, the EWG website does support the same scientific research as the Alliance:

Should we eat more fruits and vegetables?

…The health benefits of a diet rich in fruits and vegetables outweigh the risks of pesticide exposure. Eating conventionally grown produce is far better than skipping fruits and vegetables. And with EWG’s Shopper’s Guide™, consumers don’t have to choose between pesticides and healthy diets.

Do all these pesticides mean I shouldn’t eat fruits and vegetables?

No, 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 reduce your exposures as much as possible, but eating conventionally grown produce is better than not eating fruits and vegetables at all.

Shouldn’t I try to buy everything organic?

EWG recommends buying organic whenever possible.

…However, we know that organics are not accessible or affordable for everyone, so we created the Shopper’s Guide™ to help consumers make the healthiest choices given their circumstances.

…EWG always recommends eating fruits and vegetables, even conventionally grown, over processed foods and other less healthy alternatives.

SafeFruitsandVeggies logo

AFF claims on its website:

We have an obesity epidemic and current media and internet reporting is increasing fears consumers have about eating fruits and vegetables and is lowering the faith people have in the government regulations implemented to protect them.  It is inaccurate to suggest that organic is the only safe choice when it comes to selecting safe fruits and vegetables; because there is no scientific consensus to substantiate this claim.

-See more at the Alliance’s website, SafeFruitsandVeggies.com.

Thorne believes the Alliance’s success has lead to another activist group, Friends of the Earth (FOE), taking them on. Thorne said FOE is trying to discredit the Alliance by calling it a “front group”.

In its “Spinning Food” report, published in June 2015, the FOE reports:CFBF logo

While the Alliance presents itself as a science-based resource on the safety of organic and conventional produce, its funding comes from trade groups for industrially grown apples, citrus, pears and grapes, among other industry groups.

The “leading corporate Board Members or Donors” of the Alliance are listed as:

-California Farm Bureau Federation

-Western Growers

-Produce Marketing Association

Western Growers logo

 

Wikipedia defines a front organization as “any entity set up by and controlled by another organization, such as intelligence agencies, organized crime groups, banned organizations, religious or political groups, advocacy groups, or corporations. Front organizations can act for the parent group without the actions being attributed to the parent group.”

Thorne stated, “We’re not a front group. We are who we are—very transparent. The entire tax return is posted on the “About Us” section of the AFF website, as well as:

Who is Behind the Alliance for Food and Farming?   andPMA Logo    How is the Alliance for Food and Farming funded?

“But they never attack the scientific content we present,” stated Thorne, “and that really underscores our science is good and solid. They only try to discredit the organization itself with those unfounded ‘front group’ allegations.”

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