EWG (Yawn) Trots Out Their Decades-Old List

From a media release by the Alliance for Food and Farming

As they have done for the last 20 years, today the Environmental Working Group (EWG) issued its annual  so-called “dirty dozen” list concerning pesticide residues and produce. In an attempt to re-spark interest in its list, EWG debuted a new fruit in the number one position this year.  In response, the Alliance for Food and Farming (AFF) issues its annual call for reporters and bloggers to read the actual United States Department of Agriculture’s Pesticide Data Program report that EWG states it uses to develop its list before covering the “dirty dozen” release.  This USDA report states that the findings show “residues do not pose a safety concern.”

“We aren’t surprised that EWG has a new number one this year.  We even predicted it since media coverage of the “dirty dozen” list has fallen dramatically in the last five years and reached an all time low last year,” says Marilyn Dolan, AFF executive director. “We also predicted that the new number one would be a popular fruit that is a favorite among children because this is an EWG prerequisite for a number one placement.”

One of the main reasons for declining coverage of the “dirty dozen” is not only are more reporters and bloggers reading the actual USDA report, but EWG’s “list” has been discredited by the scientific community.  A peer reviewed analysis of the “dirty dozen” list found EWG uses no established scientific procedures to develop the list.  This analysis also found that EWG’s recommendation to substitute organic forms of produce for conventional forms does not result in a decrease in risk because residue levels are so minute, if present at all, on conventionally grown fruits and vegetables.

Further an analysis by a toxicologist with the University of California’s Personal Chemical Exposure Program found that a child could literally eat hundreds to thousands of servings of a fruit or vegetable in a day and still not have any effects from pesticide residues.  “For strawberries, a child could eat 1,508 servings of strawberries in a day and still not have any effects from pesticide residues which shows how low residues are, if present at all,” Dolan says.

“The concern we have with misleading consumers and the type of misinformation presented by EWG is that it may be undermining efforts by health officials everywhere to increase consumption of fruits and vegetables,” Dolan says.  Dolan cites a peer reviewed study conducted by the John Hopkins Center for a Livable Future that found conflicting messaging on food safety and nutrition may be having a detrimental impact on the dietary choices of consumers, especially those with lower incomes.

“The one consistent message that health experts agree upon and that is confirmed with decades of nutrition research is that a diet rich in fruits and veggies whether conventional or organic leads to better health and a longer life,” Dolan says.  “This is the message we should all be promoting to consumers.”

One example of that type of research comes from a peer reviewed paper published in the journal of Food and Chemical Toxicology which found that if half of Americans increased their consumption of a fruit and veggie by a single serving per day, 20,000 cancer cases could be prevented annually.

Consumers who want more information on the safety of organic and conventionally grown fruits and vegetables can visit the safefruitsandveggies website.  This website was developed by experts in food safety, toxicology, nutrition, risk analysis and farming. The AFF launched the safefruitsandveggies.com website in 2010 to provide science-based information about the safety of organic and conventional produce.  “Consumers deserve truthful, credible information about the safety of their foods so they can make the right shopping choices for their families,” Dolan says.

For consumers who may still be concerned about pesticide residues, they should simply wash their fruits and vegetables. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, you can reduce and often eliminate residues, if they are present at all, on fresh fruits and vegetables simply by washing.

 

For more information:

Consumer exposure to pesticide residue far below levels of health concern
http://acsh.org/news/2015/07/16/consumer-exposure-to-pesticide-residue-far-below-levels-of-health-concern/

Chronic dietary exposure to pesticide residues in the United States
“Chronic dietary exposure to pesticides in the diet, according to results of the FDA’s 2004–2005 TDS, continue to be at levels far below those of health concern. Consumers should be encouraged to eat fruits, vegetables, and grains and should not fear the low levels of pesticide residues found in such foods.” http://foodcontaminationjournal.springeropen.com/articles/10.1186/s40550-015-0018-y

Pesticide Residues in Food No Danger to Consumers
http://www.realclearscience.com/journal_club/2015/07/11/pesticide_residues_in_food_no_danger_to_consumers_109305.html

A discussion of EWG’s methodology and methods:
Dietary Exposure to Pesticide Residues from Commodities Alleged to Contain the Highest Contamination Levels http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3135239/

California Tests Show Low or No Pesticide Levels in Many Fruits and Vegetables http://www.cdpr.ca.gov/docs/pressrls/2015/151014.htm

2010 – 2011 USDA Pilot Study Pesticide Residue Testing of Organic Produce
“These results indicate that while pesticide residues are less common in organic produce than in conventional produce, detection of pesticide residues in organic produce is still common.” https://www.ams.usda.gov/sites/default/files/media/Pesticide%20Residue%20Testing_Org%20Produce_2010-11PilotStudy.pdf

A (Half) Dozen Reasons to Ignore the Dirty Dozen
http://www.foodinsight.org/dirty-dozen-pesticides-2016-list-problems-facts

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Let Me Tell You a Story

“Muse reading Louvre CA2220” by Klügmann Painter – Jastrow (2006). Licensed under Public Domain

We love a good story. In fact, we are hardwired for stories.[1] [2] “And the elements of a good story are always the same,” says journalist Dan Gardner. “It has to be about people. And it has to have novelty, drama and conflict.”[3]

“The elements of a good story are always the same. It has to be about people. And it has to have novelty, drama and conflict.”

Stories follow a pattern called the Hero’s Journey.[4] Often the Community’s way of life is threatened by a disturbing change. As a result, one, or a group, from the community will venture out of his or her normal life to try to defeat the thing that is harming the community to bring the world back to the way it was.

Hero stories have been told ever since humans became humans. They were, and are, ways for us to understand what is happening around us. Before there was science to postulate, test, and interpret how everything works, there were myths—stories that related the tribe’s past events and, usually, how their gods’ caused and fixed those. Everything within the world served their god’s or gods’ purpose.

The storyteller, who is often a shaman, relates and reveals unknown “facts” to the listener. He or she manipulates minds, often with the acquiescence of the community; they believe the story is the truth.

The scientific method, which started during the Enlightenment, has not completely supplanted mythology. Scientists talk of probabilities. Storytellers speak of truths.

Michael Pollan, Mark Bittman, Greenpeace, Sierra Club, to name a few are good storytellers, telling stories to alert their tribe to the dangers of new technology—genetically engineered food (aka genetically modified organisms—GMOs), industrial farming, and processed food. The old ways are being destroyed. These technologies threaten them. They say that no good can come of it. They say that “real food” is, and according to them has always been, what our great-grandmothers would have recognized.

That they are stupendously wrong about food safety and the new technology’s environmental impact does not seem to matter a whit. They tell marvelous stories. They may even believe the stories they tell, certainly many of their listeners do. They can repeat sayings from the story: “If it came from a plant, eat it; if it was made in a plant, don’t.” – Michael Pollan, Rule #19.

Scientists tell lousy stories. Instead of  “novelty, drama and conflict,” their stories have complexity, data, and confusing conclusions, not tidy and neat answers. And herein lies a problem. Non-scientists, which is the majority of us, tend to be innumerate. We use story to inform our actions. “Scientists like to say ‘anecdotes aren’t data’ but human nature actually sees things the other way around,” Gardner says, for us non-scientists, “numbers are nice but stories are truly meaningful.”

“Numbers are nice but stories are truly meaningful.”

Science storytellers cannot expect the population to become numerate. They have to tell their story in a way that connects to people.

The stakes could not be higher. Unfortunately, the stakes are numbers: the number of people, primarily children, who will die every year from malnutrition[5], the number of acres of rainforest that will be slashed and burned[6], the number of acres of critical habitat lost to organic crops (because organic practices require more land to grow equivalent harvests compare to conventional farming)[7], the number of farm workers exposed to dangerous “natural” pesticides.

But people won’t care. They know the mythmakers tell the truth.

Those other things are just numbers; those people and places aren’t “real.”

[1] Roche, Loick, and John Sadowsky. 2003. “The Power of Stories (I): A Discussion of Why Stories Are Powerful.” International Journal of Information Technology and Management 2 (4). Inderscience Publishers: 377. doi:10.1504/IJITM.2003.004233.

[2] Haven, Kendall. 2007. Story Proof: The Science Behind the Startling Power of Story. Greenwood Publishing Group. https://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=uspfMRlGXVoC&pgis=1.

[3] Gardner, Dan. 2008. “Numbers Are Nice, but Stories Matter.” CMAJ : Canadian Medical Association Journal = Journal de l’Association Medicale Canadienne 179 (1): 108. doi:10.1503/cmaj.080848.

[4] Campbell, Joseph. 2008. The Hero with a Thousand Faces. New World Library. https://books.google.com/books?id=I1uFuXlvFgMC&pgis=1.

[5] 3,100,000 source: http://cdn.static-economist.com/sites/default/files/imagecache/original-size/images/print-edition/20140510_USC830.png

[6] All of the rainforests

[7] 30% more land

 

Further Reading

Burke, Katie L. 2015. “12 Tips for Scientists Writing for the General Public?» American Scientist.” American Scientist. http://www.americanscientist.org/blog/pub/12-tips-for-scientists-writing-for-the-general-public/.

 

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Organic Pesticides and Labels: Good for the goose and all that…

This caught my eye this morning:

Food Chain RadioAmerican Council on Science and Health President Hank Campbell was on the airwaves Saturday with host Mike Olson and an organic trade rep to talk about labeling GMOs. Most fun was when the organic trade rep sputtered at the notion that there should be complete transparency on food labels – like pesticides used.

The trade rep protested that, saying their certification already covered it. Yes, the group getting paid by companies to ‘certify’ their status is using that certification to exempt its clients from transparency about its process. But insisted their competitors need to have a giant warning label about that part of the growing process.

You can listen to the archived version of the program here.

Rather odd that the organic folks who call for transparency of the use of biotechnology (which is recognized by the Food and Drug Administration to be safe and having no significant difference in the food) should balk at providing another piece of information that is of concern to consumers, namely pesticides.

An article at Foodnavigator-usa.com indicates consumers are quite concerned:

According to a survey released recently by Stonyfield Farms, a majority of Americans are concerned about pesticides in the food supply. The survey of 1,000 Americans conducted by Lindberg International on behalf of Stonyfield, the leader in the organic yogurt category, found that 71% of Americans are worried about pesticides in their food and almost three out of four respondents (74%) would like to eat food produced with fewer pesticides.

Organic public relations types obviously like the current public perception (or, at least the misperception) that pesticides aren’t used in organic food.
An ABC News poll said that in their survey “Organic foods were described as raised ‘without the use of pesticides, chemical fertilizers or feed additives.'” From their sentence it’s hard to know if they said this in the survey question or if it came from the answers. Either way, it shows the wide public misunderstanding of how USDA Certified Organic crops are grown.

References

Campbell, Hank. 2016. “Real Truth In Labeling: Why Organic Groups Object – American Council on Science and Health.” Accessed January 18. http://acsh.org/2016/01/real-truth-in-labeling-why-organic-groups-object/.

Schulz, Hank. 2016. “Survey Reveals Consumers Want to Avoid Pesticides, but Are Unsure How Label Certifications Help Them Do That.” Accessed January 18. http://www.foodnavigator-usa.com/Regulation/Survey-reveals-consumers-want-to-avoid-pesticides-but-are-unsure-how-label-certifications-help-them-do-that.

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