National Editor Tom Karst Is it the Snickers or the Dirty Dozen that weighs on fresh produce demand?
Is the Environmental Working Group or Doritos contributing more to the obesity epidemic?
Or is it none - or all - of the above?
This is an appropriate week to consider these questions.
In fact, I asked a question of the Fresh Produce Industry Discussion Group:
The choices are:
B. Pesticide Residue fears
C. Microbiological safety fears
D. Other (explain)
Speaking to option B, EWG published the eighth version of its Shoppers Guide to Pesticides on Produce June 19, and again the publication of the Dirty Dozen list attracted its share of unquestioning media fawning and another measure of withering criticism from industry advocates.
The news release from EWG was predictable enough, with terms like “pesticide loads,” “worst offenders,” and a note about “disturbing concentrations of pesticides” in baby food.
As Marilyn Dolan observed, consumer press headlines that same day about the EWG Dirty Dozen list included “Is the produce you eat covered in pesticides?” and “Terrifying toxic fruit list will change the way you eat.”
Dolan, executive director of the Watsonville, Calif.-based Alliance for Food and Farming, assembled a panel of experts for a press teleconference to present the speculative case that consumers are turning away from produce and toward unhealthy food because of the negative messaging.
The alliance issued a research report titled “Scared Fat: Are consumers being scared away from healthy foods?”
Are shoppers turning away from conventional produce if they can’t afford organic fruits and vegetables? If you are afraid to have a strawberry, what are you going to have? Hopefully not “Fruit by the Foot,” but perhaps so.
In the online survey of 800 adults, nearly one-tenth of low-income consumers polled said they would reduce consumption of fruits and vegetables after hearing negative messaging about pesticide residues. Another 9% said they didn’t know what they should do.
The idea is that consumers have been listening to the sound track of media coverage of the Dirty Dozen list for years. Some of those consumers can afford to buy organic and they will. For those who cannot afford organic, how good do they feel about conventional apples? After all, EWG apples placed as the “worst offender” of the Dirty Dozen.