Consumer Message About Healthy Eating Should Be Simple

2/28/2014 4:55 PM

Many activist groups often try to label foods and farms “good” or “bad” simply based on production systems.  Organic always being “good” and conventional always labeled as “bad.”  Now this discussion is moving to identifying “good” pesticides versus “bad” pesticides.  An example of this good/bad positioning comes from one activist group’s recent blog which states:

“Moreover, in terms of the risk to children’s health, there’s a significant difference between the naturally derived pesticides used in organic farming and the synthetic ones employed by conventional farmers.” Environmental Working Group

And

“Organic farmers turn to the few approved pesticides as a last resort when battling weeds and insects, unlike conventional operations that lay down multiple applications throughout the entire growing process.” Environmental Working Group

Makes one scratch their head doesn’t it?  Because as most directly involved with farming know, there are many more similarities in organic and conventional production systems than differences. Both conventional and organic farmers only use pesticides as a last resort and as part of a comprehensive pest and disease control system, commonly referred to as integrated pest management.  And they often choose to use the exact same pesticides – natural and synthetic.  Case in point, an analysis commissioned by the Alliance for Food and Farming showed that two of the top three pesticides used in California are approved for use on both organic and conventional farms.  And, a quick review of the “Ask the Expert” videos at safefruitsandveggies.com featuring real farmers talking about disease and pest control will illustrate the similarities in these production systems.

But, what are the activists doing by perpetuating this added (and inaccurate) messaging about pesticides?  What are they trying to achieve?  And, how much more confusing can it get for a mom trying to choose healthy foods for her family? 

This is why the AFF provides science based information to consumers so that they can read, learn and  then choose either organic and/or conventional produce with confidence.  An example of this effort  is the new organic and conventional pesticide section which outlines all the laws and regulations governing the approval and safe use of these tools for both farming systems.  The new section also features a Q&A with the California Department of Pesticide Regulation Director Brian Leahy – a former organic farmer – who addresses why pesticides are used and how they are regulated to ensure food safety.

In the convoluted food world where consumers are continually bombarded with often contrary information, there is one recommendation that has widespread agreement among health experts, the government and even environmental and activist groups:  Conventional and organic produce is safe and we should all be eating more every day for improved health and a longer life.  This is a pretty simple message which should be clearly communicated to consumers if we want to improve diets and public health. 

So after agreeing with that message and even carrying it, why do activists continue to undermine it and add confusion with statements about “dirty” versus “clean” produce, “good” farms versus “bad” farms and now pesticides that are safe to use versus those that are not?  It defies science and reason. Moreover, it is a very slippery slope that is detrimental to consumers as well as farmers – no matter what the production system.  

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