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    The Truth About Pesticides, Part 2: What Are They Afraid Of?

    Thursday, October 14th, 2010

    From Bryan Silbermann, PMA president & CEO
     
    Last month, Ask Dr. Bob introduced you to a new campaign from our colleagues at the Alliance for Food and Farming called “The Truth About Pesticides”. The alliance’s Marilyn Dolan joined him for that post. You’ll recall that the alliance commissioned a blue-ribbon panel of experts from different scientific disciplines to review claims being made that pesticide residues on produce are unsafe.
     
    In a nutshell, that panel found Dirty Dozen-type claims to be groundless and without scientific basis. There is simply no documented scientifically-validated evidence that the very trace amounts of residues that might be found on fresh produce can cause health problems. The panel’s findings were unveiled to industry, the media and consumers back in July. 
     
    PMA is proud to have supported this campaign since its inception, including funding development of the consumer website, www.safefruitsandveggies.com. Simply put, our industry must act to counter the negative effects such claims have on our consumers. This summer, 29% of consumers The Hartman Group surveyed for PMA told us that they are avoiding eating fresh produce because of concerns about pesticide residues. The alliance is now working to get the word out about what the panel had to say – and in the process encourage consumption of all fresh produce, conventional and organic.
     
    The environmental community’s response has been, let’s just say, strong. We’ve clearly hit a nerve.  The Alliance’s intent in commissioning a review of these claims was to start a conversation on the subject. Unfortunately, the reaction of several activist groups – including the folks behind the Dirty Dozen list – has been the exact opposite. Rather than considering what we have to say, they appear to be actively working to squelch this new information. Their tactics so far have included trying to position the producer-backed alliance as a store front for the chemical industry, and trying to pressure state government officials into revoking grant funding the Alliance received to help it get the word out about the science report.
     
    PMA and our colleagues at the Alliance are hopeful that at the end of the day, facts and reason will prevail – and consumers will eat more fresh produce, not less because they’ve been frightened. We invite you to help us get the word out to consumers and consumer media about www.safefruitsandveggies.com. For more information on what you can do, contact the Alliance for Food and Farming.
     
    Unfortunately, not everyone is interested in advancing the consumer’s right to know.  Recently, we learned just how strongly entrenched one television show host’s opinions are.  In September, the Alliance, PMA and several other organizations contacted Dr. Mehmet Oz after he aired a particularly egregious segment.  Alas, even this doctor by training wasn’t interested in the facts if it gets in the way of good theater. That gives you an idea of the long, uphill climb we have ahead of us. But at the end of the day, climbing that hill is what’s best for our consumers, for public health – and yes, for our industry, too.

    The Real Danger of the Dirty Dozen List

    Tuesday, July 27th, 2010

    Julia Stewart:
    Hello, this is PMA PR Director Julia Stewart, and welcome back to PMA’s audio blog, “Ask Dr. Bob” with PMA’s Chief Science and Technology Officer Dr. Bob Whitaker. Bob, we’ve got a guest with us today as we welcome Marilyn Dolan, executive director of the Alliance for Food and Farming. Over the years, there’s been continuing media coverage of misleading information about produce pesticide levels. Most recently, what’s being called the “Dirty Dozen Report” inaccurately names specific fruits and vegetables as having unsafe pesticide residues that impact health.

    Bob, can you share some insight on this all too familiar food safety concern?

    Bob:
    Yes, Julia. Unfortunately this issue continues to rear its ugly head despite industry’s past efforts to counter it.  We’re pleased to have Marilyn with us today to share some perspective and reality on this with our listeners.

    Over the years we’ve seen inaccurate claims made by activist groups about unsafe levels of pesticides in produce. These claims threaten consumers’ confidence in the safety or wholesomeness of fresh produce, and PMA believes we must respond aggressively to restore confidence and increase consumption. To date, without sound science at hand, our industry hasn’t been able to effectively contest these scare tactics with facts. Meanwhile, new research indicates that negative attention is taking a toll on consumer confidence in all fresh produce, not just the commodities being singled out in publications like this Dirty Dozen report. Marilyn, welcome…can you tell us more?

    Marilyn:
    Thanks Bob.  This is a critical issue for the industry, evidenced by the fact that more than 90 percent of consumers report that they are “somewhat to very concerned” about pesticide residues on food.  In response, the Alliance for Food and Farming is teaming up with PMA to launch a new campaign this month called “The Real Danger of the Dirty Dozen List”. It will counter these misleading claims and promote the real facts about pesticide residues on our food. At the core of the campaign is a comprehensive review of the Dirty Dozen report by an expert panel of scientists. This review examines the list rankings, methodology, and scientific evidence linking pesticide residues to health effects.

    Julia:
    I’ve been working crisis communications in the produce industry for a number of years now, including on this issue. So I know what a much-needed campaign this is for our industry to finally have. Bob, could you explain more about PMA’s support for it?

    Bob:
    Sure, PMA is supporting this effort as part of our ongoing mission to identify and respond to emerging issues and effectively avoid or minimize their impact on our members’ businesses. We’ve been integrally involved in the development of this campaign from inception, including financially assisting with the campaign’s consumer website. PMA supports this new program, and others like it, that give year-round value to PMA members.

    Julia:
    So, Marilyn, what can we do to set the record straight for consumers?

    Marilyn:
    The Alliance for Food and Farming plans to reach out to consumer media and health professionals, and ultimately drive consumers to a new website with information specifically on the issue of pesticide residues on produce. The website address is www.safefruitsandveggies.com. We want consumers to know it is safe to eat all kinds of produce – conventional and organic—and that the current pesticide review process protects public health. If consumers are still concerned about pesticide residues, they should just rinse it. The campaign also provides proactive tools the industry can use to communicate with consumers about the safety of fruits and vegetables. With less than 2 percent of the population involved in food production, it’s more important than ever for each company to be an advocate for the produce industry by telling your great story to consumers. These tools are available to any Alliance for Food and Farming member on our website at www.foodandfarming.info.

    Bob:
    That’s absolutely right Marilyn! And, the ball’s in our court now. When the expert panel reviewed the Dirty Dozen report, they found that the currently available scientific data does not provide evidence to support the publicized findings. With factual tools in hand, it’s our turn to win consumers back, restoring their confidence in us and the products we market. We need to tell them our story with the same passion and conviction that we show each other when we talk about what we do.

    Julia:
    Thank you, Marilyn and Bob, for helping equip us to get out there and talk about this very important food safety topic.

    Listeners, I urge you to visit www.safefruitsandveggies.com to learn more about the Real Danger of the Dirty Dozen list. Now when you get questions about pesticide residues, you’ll be able to pass this information on and help assure consumers of your commitment to the safety of fresh fruits and vegetables. Thanks and please join us next time.

    Helping Consumers Be Food Safe

    Monday, July 28th, 2008

    Hello, this is PMA PR Director Julia Stewart and welcome back to PMA’s audio series, “Ask Dr. Bob Whitaker.” With us today is Kathy Means, PMA vice president of government relations and public affairs. Thanks for speaking with us today. Kathy, as we record this, the industry is still in the grips of a large Salmonella saintpaul foodborne illness outbreak linked to fresh produce items including first certain types of tomatoes and then later certain types of hot peppers. This outbreak is getting daily headlines, and is taking its toll on consumer confidence. PMA consumer research indicates that virtually every consumer knows about this latest food safety problem involving produce, and that their confidence in produce food safety has sagged yet again. Can you talk with me about what PMA is doing to talk to consumers about food safety, and to educate them about what their role is in safeguarding the foods they buy and eat?

    Kathy Means:

    Thanks, Julia.

    You’re right, consumers are the final link in the produce distribution chain, and they do have a role to play in food safety. Of course, the first responsibility for safety lies with our industry, and government has a role to play, too. Yet we cannot forget that consumers need to know how to best handle our nutritious, delicious products as well.

    Eleven years ago, PMA and other food associations recognized that consumers need consistent, credible, accurate information about safe food handling – for all foods. For this reason, we are a founding member of the Partnership for Food Safety Education, which seeks to teach consumers how to handle food safely. The partnership is a public-private nonprofit effort that includes industry, government agencies and consumer groups. Its four core messages of clean, separate, cook and chill offer simple, actionable, effective guidance to consumers of all ages. These reach consumers through both the “Fight BAC!” campaign and the “Be Food Safe” campaign. PMA contributes financial and human resources to the partnership. In fact, PMA President Bryan Silbermann serves as the chairman of the partnership.

    Beyond financial and staff support for the partnership, PMA also has funded development of produce-specific consumer guidance. These science-based, consumer-tested messages are free for anyone to use. They advise consumers to make sure the produce they buy is not damaged, and that fresh-cut items are chilled. They cover how to wash hands, and how to wash produce – and in case you’re wondering, our advice to consumers is to wash produce under running water, don’t use bleach or detergent. The guidance stresses avoiding cross-contamination, and advises cooking produce that may have become contaminated by raw meat or raw meat juices. And they explain when to refrigerate items and when to throw them out.

    Some companies have told me they’re concerned about talking about safety out of fear that it might raise consumer concerns. As I mentioned, these messages are consumer tested, and have been shown to reassure and empower consumers.

    The partnership has downloadable “Fight BAC!” brochures that companies can customize with their logo to use in their own consumer outreach programs. Or companies can link to Web-based information. “Fight BAC!” is a free resource that demonstrates a company’s concern for consumer safety.

    Speaking of resources, PMA members also have access to another free resource through the partnership. Its “Be Food Safe” campaign has been developed specifically for, and with input of, leading retailers and suppliers. It is designed to remind consumers about important safe food handling practices at the places where they shop for food. PMA members interested in promoting these preventive health messages can enjoy a free license to use the “Be Food Safe” materials if they sign up by the end of October 2008. Our members do not have to pay the licensing fee because PMA has already contributed to this campaign on behalf of its members.

    Consumers deserve a safe, healthful delicious produce experience, every bite, every time. One piece of that experience is empowering them to handle produce well through easy, effective education. These resources are available on PMA’s food safety page – in the Issues section of www.pma.com. Take advantage of them today. They’ll enhance your company’s reputation by showing your commitment to food safety. And you’ll be helping us spread the word about safe produce handling.

    Julia:

    Thank you, Kathy. As our nation struggles with obesity and all the related chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease – even among our children! – this is not a time we want consumers to be discouraged from eating the very foods they should be eating more of for their better health: fruits and vegetables. It’s good to know that there are tested tools to help us talk to consumers about food safety in a way that encourages and empowers them. Thanks to our listeners for joining us, goodbye for now.

     
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