A California state assemblyman’s effort to boost produce consumption by declaring September Food Literacy Awareness Month prompted mixed reactions from the industry.
Assemblyman Roger Dickinson’s resolution drew fire at an early July health committee hearing for rating the nutritional value of organic produce higher than conventional. Claims of reduced environmental effects from buying local were also disputed.
Dickinson, a Sacramento Democrat, promoted gains for California agriculture and reductions in childhood obesity if state agencies join local communities in food education efforts. Trade associations support that, but not the claim that “organic produce contains higher levels of vitamins and nutrients than those sprayed with pesticides.”
“That statement by itself is totally inaccurate,” Barry Bedwell, president of the California Grape & Tree Fruit League, told The Packer. “That’s not to put down organic. But we would like to add that it’s important to eat California-grown, wherever it’s sourced.”
Bedwell wants an amended resolution.
Others seeking amendments or expressing opposition include:
- California Citrus Mutual;
- California Tomato Growers Association;
- California Farm Bureau Federation;
- Western Growers;
- Agricultural Council of California; and
- American Pistachio Growers.
Dave Puglia, senior vice president of government affairs and communications at Irvine, Calif.-based Western Growers, cites a study at the University of California-Davis that found no significant nutritional difference between organic and conventional.
“That’s true for a host of different products,” he said. “You can argue about that all day long, but the more important imperative is to promote the increased consumption of fresh produce. Even the Environmental Working Group, which we certainly have our disagreements with over their Dirty Dozen list, says clearly that no matter what consumers do when looking at it, they encourage higher consumption of fresh produce however it’s produced. There’s an area of common agreement.”
Another part of the resolution said “expansion of local and regional food systems can reduce the environmental cost of United States agriculture.”
At the hearing, Noelle Cremers of the California Farm Bureau Federation referred to a University of California-Santa Barbara study that questioned the extent of local’s benefits.
“It showed that if Santa Barbara County switched to all-local food, the reduction of greenhouse gases would be less than 1% and there would not necessarily be any effect on nutrition for county residents,” Cremers told The Packer.
“That study and others have said that what matters is how the food is produced, not where it’s produced,” she said. “You can have very efficient means of transportation. Looking at food miles isn’t necessarily a correct way to look at energy use.”
Puglia is confident amendments will be made as a result of trade conversations with the assemblyman’s staff.
“Mr. Dickinson introduced the resolution without having the benefit of a conversation with a lot of us in the ag industry,” Puglia said. “He’s open to making significant changes to it. But as it was introduced, it contains assertions that are in many respects questionable.” To pit one type of production against another, conventional versus organic, we don’t see any need for that.
“The objective of policy makers in California ought to be to promote consumption of fresh produce by all Californians irrespective of whether it’s organic or conventional. The nutritional benefits that come with a diet higher in fresh produce, ought to be the bottom line.”
“At the end of the day it’s a resolution, not a proposed change in law,” Puglia said. “It’s not the most critical thing to argue over. But it’s important to do it better.”