In regard to a recent television show about the “dirtiest produce,” America should pay no attention to Dr. Oz.
In a Sept. 28 letter sent to Dr. Mehmet Oz of the “Doctor Oz Show,” four produce associations voiced their objections to his segment that aired Sept. 24 by Dr. Oz about pesticides on fresh produce.
The letter was signed by the Watsonville, Calif.-based Alliance for Food and Farming, the Newark, Del-based Produce Marketing Association, the Washington, D.C.-based United Fresh Produce Association, and Irvine, Calif.-based Western Growers.
Countering what the industry considers to be misleading reports about pesticides on produce has become a high priority since consumers may be increasingly sensitive to the issue. The Alliance for Food and Farming launched a campaign in July that employed a panel of scientists to critically evaluate the science behind the “Dirty Dozen” list published by the Environmental Working Group.
The letter focuses on Oz’s assertion that eating produce with pesticide residues “would cause a person’s heart to race, eyes to dilate and asthma-like symptoms,” a statement the groups classify as medically and scientifically invalid.
The Produce Marketing Association has reported that a significant number of consumers refrain from buying produce because of fears about pesticide residues.
According to research from the Hartman Group, funded by PMA, 29% of consumers reported in 2010 that they don’t buy more produce because of pesticide concerns, which is up from 18% in 2008.
“While there are many reasons for the degradation of America’s eating habits, fear among consumers should not be one of them. Your recent show about the ‘dirtiest produce items’ did just that — placed fear into viewers about healthy, wholesome fruits and vegetables.”
According to the letter, pesticide use is regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration, and that 98% of the produce tested has no residue or is within the legal limits.
“And, our government’s standards governing the use of pesticides are the most stringent in the world — yes, even more stringent than the European system,” according to the letter.
The Environmental Working Group’s list is misleading, according to the letter.
“In addition, the “list” that is commonly referred to by the Consumers Union and the Environmental Working Group (EWG) that you used as a basis for your show was also examined by a team of scientists from across the nation,” according to the letter. “The panel was comprised of toxicologists, risk assessors and nutritionists. That expert panel found that these lists are misleading to consumers, are a detriment to public health because they discourage consumption, and lack scientific evidence that the pesticide levels found pose any risk.”
David Willoughby, a Watsonville, Calif. vegetable grower for Dole Food Co. Inc., Westlake Village, Calif., said the "dirtiest produce" segment on Dr. Oz was ridiculous and created unnecessary fear among consumers. "The way they presented it seemed like the total number of chemicals that could be applied to a crop were all applied to everything," he said.
For instance, he said the segment listed 70 different chemicals on strawberries. "In reality there is no way anyone would apply anywhere near that number of chemicals on a crop,” he said. “That absurd,"
Willoughby also said the segment didn’t explain the differences between the relative risks of various pesticides.
Willoughby said the industry is on the right track by promoting its use of integrated pest management to consumers and explaining what practices growers employ to restrict chemical and pesticide use.
Willoughby has been growing with Dole for 60 years and has been farming a ranch in Watsonville for about 150 years.