The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Pesticide Industry to Use Tax Dollars to Attack Critics

The California Department of Food and Agriculture
has awarded $180,000 in federal funds to finance an
agribusiness-chemical industry plan to combat its critics -
Environmental Working Group and other health, consumer and organic
farming advocates who have campaigned against overuse of pesticides on
food crops.


The California Department of Food and Agriculture
has awarded $180,000 in federal funds to finance an
agribusiness-chemical industry plan to combat its critics -
Environmental Working Group and other health, consumer and organic
farming advocates who have campaigned against overuse of pesticides on
food crops.

The Alliance for Food and Farming
(AFF), a Watsonville, California, trade association representing more
than 50 large produce growers and marketers and pesticide and fertilizer
suppliers, is slated for a slice of California's $17.5 million share of
the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Specialty Crops Block Grant program, which Congress set up in 2004 to improve "efficiency, productivity and profitability" in farming of vegetables, fruits, nuts and flowers. The 2008 farm bill expanded the specialty crops program, mandating that USDA
distribute $55 million in state block grants in 2010, and the same for
2011 and 2012, to advance "buy local" campaigns and other efforts to
make produce, nuts and flower crops more competitive.

California officials announced last Friday (Sept. 17) that the Alliance for Food and Farming would receive $180,000 to "correct the misconception
that some fresh produce items contain excessive amounts of pesticide
residues." The state press release added that the grant would go to
rebut "claims by activist groups about unsafe levels of pesticides
[that] have been widely reported in the media for many years, but have
largely gone uncontested. ... The goal is to generate more balanced media
reporting and change public perception about the safety of produce when
it comes to pesticide residues."

Last July, the Alliance for Food and Farming attacked Environmental Working Group's (EWG) influential "Shopper's Guide To Pesticides In Produce," introduced more than a decade ago to advise consumers about high concentrations of pesticide residues in conventional produce.

"This grant is a slap in the face of California's rapidly-advancing
organic agriculture sector," said Ken Cook, president and founder of
Environmental Working Group. "While conventional produce has seen
demand stagnate, organics are enjoying dynamic growth. The state should
think twice about using U.S. taxpayers' money to attempt to give
chemical-dependent industrial farming a competitive edge over organics."

"The block grant program supports some initiatives that we believe
are worthwhile," Cook said. "But the grant in question shows how a good
program can be distorted. I think most taxpayers would say this is
exactly the kind of thing they don't want their money spent on. It ends
up going to serve the agribusiness agenda. If these well-heeled
corporate farming interests want to talk people out of buying organic or
low-pesticide food, they ought to spend their own money to do it."

Over the past decade, organic fruit and vegetable sales have soared
from 3 percent of the retail produce market in the U.S. in 2000 to
nearly 11 percent last year, to $9.5 billion. According to surveys by
the Organic Trade Association,
organic produce's precipitous trajectory barely slowed when the global
financial crisis took hold in late 2008. The stunning gains make a sharp
contrast to the otherwise lackluster market for conventional fruits and
vegetables in recent years.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service (ERS)
reports that Americans' per capita annual consumption of fresh fruit and vegetables
has been roughly flat for the past two decades. U.S. vegetable
consumption has slumped slightly, according to USDA, to 92.2 pounds per
person per year in 2008, from an all-time peak of 101 pounds in 1999.

According to the Pesticide Action Network of North America,
an advocacy group that compiles data on pesticide use, in 2008
California growers deployed 161 million pounds of pesticides on all
crops. They used 53 million pounds of pesticides on crops whose
growers comprise the Alliance for Food and Farming: head lettuce, leaf
lettuce, celery, spinach, tomatoes, avocados, table and raisin grapes,
wine grapes, peaches and strawberries.

According to public records examined by EWG the Alliance for Food and Farming is chaired by Matt McInerney, executive vice president of Western Growers Association, an Irvine, Calif., based organization of large California and Arizona farmers.

California officials last week awarded the Western Growers Association two grants totaling $942, 278 to create a website and other communications activities to promote specialty crops.

Last July, the Alliance for Food and Farming set up a web site
and press webinar to attack EWG's Pesticide Guide, contending that
there is "no scientific evidence" that a small amount of pesticide
residue on food "represents any health risk."

According to EWG's reviews of public record, the Alliance board is comprised of:

Richard L. Peterson - Executive director, California Dried Plum Board

Matt McInerney - Executive vice president, Western Growers Association

Jim Howard - Vice president, California Table Grape Commission

Rick Tomlinson - Director of government affairs, California Strawberry Commission

Ed Beckman - President, California Tomato Farmers; former President of CA Tomato Commission

Barry Bedwell - President, California Grape & Tree Fruit League

Bruce Knobeloch - Chief operating officer, River Ranch Fresh Foods, LLC

Mark Murai - President, California Strawberry Commission

Kathleen Nave - President, California Table Grape Commission

Sheri Mierau - Vice president of sales and marketing, Fruit Patch Sales LLC

Rosanna Westmoreland - Communications manager, California Farm Bureau Federation

Claire Smith - Director, corporate communications, Sunkist Growers, Inc.

Terry Stark - Executive Director, California Association of Pest Control Advisers

Dave Kranz - Communications, California Farm Bureau Federation

Renee Pinel - President and chief executive officer, Western Plant Health Association

Bryan Silbermann - President and chief executive officer, Produce Marketing Association

Bob Whitaker - Chief science officer, Produce Marketing Association

The Environmental Working Group is a community 30 million strong, working to protect our environmental health by changing industry standards.

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