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More Than 50 Groups Challenge Government Grant to Pro-Pesticide PR Campaign

than 50 organizations concerned about the risks of pesticides to human
health and the environment have joined forces to fight California
officials’ award of a $180,000 taxpayer-funded grant to a chemical
agribusiness public relations campaign.

The environmental, public health, consumer groups and farmers were
responding to the state’s Sept. 17 announcement of a grant to the
Alliance for Food and Farming (AFF) to counter educational campaigns
aimed at informing consumers about pesticide residues on fruits and
vegetables. The California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA)
said the grant would support the Alliance’s efforts to “change public
perception about the safety of produce when it comes to pesticide
residues.” Link to the CDFA's list of grants can be found here: <>  

The funding was provided through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s
Specialty Crop Block Grant program, but the state agency selected the
recipients. The Alliance represents more than 50 large produce growers
and marketers and the suppliers who sell them pesticides and fertilizer.

In their letter <>
 to CDFA Secretary A. G. Kawamura and Alfred G. Montna, president of
the California Board of Food and Agriculture, the public interest
organizations called on CDFA and USDA to “retract this award and take
action to ensure that future grant-making serves the interests of all

The letter, organized by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) and Californians for Pesticide Reform, continued:

"The federally-funded Specialty Crops Block Grant (SCBG) Program in
California is a valuable effort intended to support research, marketing
and nutrition programs that help make produce, nuts and flower crops
more competitive, accessible and in the case of research, more
sustainable. While we strongly support this program, we object to the
department’s decision to fund an industry communications initiative
against legitimate public interest concerns related to pesticide
residues on food.  The award of this grant strikes a blow to
California’s expanding organic produce industry and places the
department in opposition to the public’s interest in reducing pesticide
exposure. This action also represents a fundamental failure to implement
a fair and balanced grant selection process.

"Pesticide residues are a genuine problem: both peer-reviewed literature
and the USDA food residue test database have found them on many
conventionally-grown foods.  Scientists have expressed valid concerns
about the health risks posed by some of these chemicals. It is
inappropriate for state and federal officials to categorically take the
side of conventional agribusiness in this scientific and policy debate
by funding a public relations effort designed to attack public interest

Kari Hamerschlag, a senior food and agriculture analyst at EWG, said,
“CDFA should be investing in programs to help promote greater sales and
consumption of locally grown, organic and sustainably produced fruits
and vegetables, instead of allowing corporate agribusiness to use
taxpayer funds for its PR campaign in support of pesticides. This award
cries out for a thorough review and reorientation of the criteria that
determine how these resources are spent.”

“Organic, fair and local farming is the future of agriculture,” said
Tracey Brieger, co-director of Californians for Pesticide Reform.
“Public money needs to support these solutions to air and water
pollution and climate change, not fund initiatives that fuel the

Concerns about the risks associated with pesticide exposure aren’t
limited to the advocacy community. The USDA and the federal
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have for decades conducted
extensive research into the issue, which led to the phase-out of some
pesticides found to be toxic, and in some cases potentially
life-threatening, and to regulatory restrictions on a number of others.

The public interest groups called for a full accounting of how the
decision to award the AFF grant was made. They also urged the state
Department of Food and Agriculture and the Board of Food and Agriculture
to establish a more balanced grant review committee, with greater
representation from public interest groups and the organic specialty
crop sector.


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