Don’t Let The Pesticide Lobby Play Bully

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Tell USDA to stand by its pesticide data program.

It's the time of year when the U.S. Department of Agriculture is preparing to release its annual pesticide data – information the Environmental Working Group uses to bring you the Shopper's Guide to Pesticides in Produce, which helps careful consumers minimize their exposure to pesticide residues on fruits and vegetables.

The pesticide lobby, especially a front group called the Alliance for Food and Farming, doesn't want you to worry about such things, of course. That would be bad for business. That's why for the past two years industry representatives have waged a multi-front campaign to get USDA to package its pesticide data with industry talking points that downplay risks and consumers' concerns. And they attack EWG's Shopper's Guide to Pesticides in Produce in the bargain, going so far as to claim that the information discourages people from eating fruits and vegetables. That's laughable.

EWG won't back down, and neither should you. Eating enough fruits and vegetables is very important to maintaining a healthy diet, and consumers have a right to know which products have higher levels of pesticide residues.

Last year, EWG launched an investigation into the Alliance for Food and Farming and its efforts to influence USDA. We learned that:

  • The Alliance for Food and Farming – which represents the interests of conventional agriculture producers and pesticide companies – received a $180,000 USDA grant in 2010 to attack “Environmental Working Group’s ‘dirty dozen’ report,” and to denounce “[c]laims by activist groups about unsafe levels of pesticides.” ( See Image: 1 and 2)
  • A top USDA official even wrote a letter endorsing the use of federal tax dollars to attack EWG.( See Letter Image: 3)
  • Internal USDA documents show that when EWG supporters called USDA out for funding the project with your tax money, some USDA officials tried to do damage control, discussing whether they could rescind the grant and tone down public disclosures about the project. ( See Image: 4 and 5)
  • At the same time the Alliance for Food and Farming was preparing to attack EWG's Shopper's Guide to Pesticides in Produce, industry representatives were lobbying hard to have USDA change the way it releases its pesticide data to include industry-friendly spin downplaying the risks of pesticide residues. ( See Image: 6, 7, 8, and 9)
  • More than a dozen industry representatives – including members of the Alliance for Food and Farming board of directors who led the campaign against EWG – wrote Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack last year telling him to keep “environmental activists” from presenting USDA pesticide data in a way that would hurt business. ( See Image: 10)

A USDA spokesperson told the Washington Post that the Department resisted pressure to change its data and results. However, last year’s USDA report contained for the first time a two-page document titled “What Consumers Should Know,” which was requested by industry. If past is prologue, the pesticide lobby may well be up to the same old tricks again, leaning on USDA to release this year’s data in a way that is favorable to industry.

This year’s pesticide residue data is due to come out in a matter of weeks. Tell USDA to stand firm and protect its results from industry meddling.

And stay tuned for EWG’s updated Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce, expected later this spring.

To see additional documents obtained through EWG’s investigation, click here.



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