Cooperation Needed to Correct Skewed Risk/Benefit Perceptions About Produce Safety
Shoppers and Trends
May 28, 2014
guest column by Marilyn Dolan, Executive Director, The Alliance for Food and Farming
What if peer-reviewed studies showed that something you ate regularly could:
- Reduce your risk of stroke by almost a third.
- Reduce your risk of heart disease by 31%.
- Reduce your risk of cancer by 25%.
- Reduce your risk of premature death by 42%.
Would you eat more of it?
The good news is this food group exists – it’s fruits and vegetables. And, the statistics cited above come from peer-reviewed research just released within the last few weeks. These findings are not unique and they underscore the results of decades of nutritional studies that show a diet rich in fruits and vegetables leads to better health and a longer life. These studies were largely conducted using conventionally grown produce.
So, why would anyone discourage consumption of these healthy foods? What motivates groups to create a barrier to increased produce consumption by calling these foods “dirty” or “toxic laden?” And, this language concerning pesticide residues, which has increased in its veracity over the years, is having its affect on consumers. Surveys repeatedly demonstrate that concern is increasing with one showing that 94% of consumers expressed safety concerns about produce due to pesticide residues.
This level of concern comes despite the fact that government-sampling programs continually show that residues, if present at all, are found at extremely minute levels. In fact, residues are so low that a child could literally eat hundreds to thousands of servings of a fruit or vegetable a day and still not have any health effects from residues.
So how did risk/benefit perceptions among Americans about produce become so skewed? Again, for the last decade activist groups and marketers have repeatedly used terms to describe conventionally grown fruits and veggies as “dirty” or “toxic.” This messaging has been aggressively promoted and marketed to media, dietitians, foodies, chefs and consumers until it has unfortunately become almost mainstream thinking.
This is why safefruitsandveggies.com was launched in 2010 by the Alliance for Food and Farming (AFF). The goal was to provide consumers with science-based, credible information about the safety of organic and conventional produce so they could make the right shopping choices for their families. At the AFF, we really don’t care if consumers choose to buy conventional or organic – we just want them to eat more produce for better health. Since conventionally grown produce is the more accessible and affordable choice for most consumers, it’s important that we counter the repeated and continual disparagement about their safety to reassure concerned consumers. And, even the most diligent organic shopper at times only has a conventional option – shouldn’t they feel confident in the safety of that produce as well?
Do we think the disparagement of healthy and safe produce will stop? If public health were a concern for groups that resort to calling popular produce items “dirty” then it certainly should. But this is clearly not about what is best for public health and these groups are quite motivated to continue for their own internal reasons.
For those concerned about public health and improving diets, we ask that you help us remind consumers about the real facts. And those are:
- There is no other food group more nutritious and healthy than fruits and vegetables.
- There is no other food group where there is uniform and widespread agreement among health experts that consumption needs to be substantially increased.
- There is no other food group where decades of studies show such staggering health benefits when consumption is increased even slightly – these studies were largely conducted using conventionally grown produce.
- And, there are very few industries that can show 99% compliance rate with EPA established safety standards.
Read, learn, and choose, but, most importantly, eat more produce every day, organic or conventional.