Discredited by Scientists, Ignored by Media - It's Time for EWG to Retire Decades Old "List"

3/6/2015 9:52 AM

A five-year analysis of media coverage of the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) so-called “dirty dozen” list shows a steady decline in overall coverage, unbalanced coverage and consumer reach.  And last week, when EWG released its 2015 list, mainstream media outlets largely ignored the “list” and coverage dropped to negligible levels.

Until 2010, EWG’s list had become one of the main sources of misinformation about produce safety targeted toward consumers – until the Alliance for Food and Farming's (AFF) Management Board said  “no more” to disparaging these safe and healthy products and launched the Safe Fruits and Veggies initiative.  The initiative’s goal is to provide consumers with science based information so that facts, not fear, guide food purchasing decisions.

From 1995 to 2009, EWG’s annual list release enjoyed widespread coverage in major newspapers, on television networks and affiliates, women’s magazines and from online news outlets.  And, 99.8% of that coverage was one-sided with only EWG’s claims and statements included.  Left unchecked and unchallenged, the AFF Management Board was concerned that this type of misinformation about produce safety was undermining efforts to promote increased consumption of these healthy foods. 

From 2010 to 2014, the five-year analysis showed that the initiative’s efforts had resulted in 52% of the media coverage of the “dirty dozen” list consistently had balanced content for consumers and/or carried AFF information and perspectives only.  One-sided stories featuring EWG’s claims dropped from 99.8% down to 48%.  Many of the larger mainstream print publications no longer covered EWG’s list release after consistently generating stories year after year and some of the more prominent media outlets’ coverage now focused on AFF’s science and information exclusively.

This year, mainstream media largely ignored the “list” release with the majority of coverage limited to EWG-friendly bloggers. After enjoying such widespread, one-sided media coverage from 1995 to 2009, EWG has seen their coverage decline to only eight mainstream outlets reporting on their perspective in 2015.     

The success of the Safe Fruits and Veggies Initiative shows that science can prevail and effectively counter rhetoric and inaccuracies generated and perpetuated by activist groups.  By providing consumers with peer reviewed science, analyses by university scientists and experts plus access to credible spokespersons, inaccuracies and common misperceptions about produce safety and pesticide residues were countered and corrected by the AFF informational campaign.  To date, no group, including the EWG, has questioned any of the information found at safefruitsandveggies.com, which underscores the quality of the science.

While the success of the Safe Fruits and Veggies initiative when measured against the “dirty dozen” list release is rewarding, there is much more work to do.  Consumer surveys continue to show that consumers perceive conventionally grown produce as less safe due to misinformation perpetuated by groups like EWG.  And the AFF Management Board’s concerns about the undermining effects of this misinformation appear to have been warranted with a recent study showing that conflicting food safety messages may be negatively impacting consumers’ dietary choices, especially those with lower incomes. 

After 20 years of releasing its “dirty dozen” list, it seems that EWG remains determined to continue aggressively pushing their claims and misinformation about produce safety.  But we remain hopeful that they will re-examine this “list” and finally acknowledge it is time to stop with this tired and discredited tactic of calling safe fruits and veggies “toxic” and “dirty.” 

Rest assured, the AFF will continue our efforts to provide peer reviewed science, government reports and credible information to offset these claims.  To do anything less would be a disservice to consumers and the organic and conventional farmers we proudly represent.

Read, learn, choose but eat more organic and conventional fruits and veggies for better health and a longer life.




Leave a Comment …