March, 1999


Consumers Union reports some produce toxic to children

Anyone listening to the news on February 18 might have been surprised to hear that some fruits and vegetables could be toxic to children.

That’s what CNN and other major news networks reported when opening for a story about Consumers Union (publishers of Consumer Reports) that day. It released a study of pesticide residues and ranking on which were most toxic.

Consumers Union analyzed data collected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Pesticide Data Program (PDP) to compare the relative amounts and toxicity of pesticide residues in different foods. It obtained pesticide residue data on over 27,000 food samples tested by the PDP in 1994-97.

"We weighted the amounts of residues present to account for differences in the toxicity of individual pesticide chemicals, and computed a toxicity index (TI) for each food," the Consumers Union press release said. "Our TI integrates measures of the frequency of pesticide detection, the levels of residues present and the relative toxicity of the detected residues, yielding an index of the relative toxicity loading of each food."

Its study claimed that 77% of winter squash, 41% of peaches, 19% of Chilean grapes, 11% of apples and 8% of pears had a higher level of pesticides than was safe for a 44-pound child.

"The pesticides on virtually all tested produce are within legal limits. But many of those limits are at odds with what the government now deems safe for young children," the report said.

Many in the produce industry are questioning the study since it was not peered reviewed.

"They had to admit that virtually all residues are within legal limits," said U.S. Apple Association President Kraig Naasz. "In order to make something newsworthy they had to come up with something new, so they devised this new "first-of-its kind analysis." That the news hook. They’ve needlessly and erroneously scared consumers about the safety of fruits and vegetables in an effort to bring pressure on EPA to restrict or eliminate many crop protection tools."

The Consumers Union report is seen as its frustration to where the broad-based Tolerance Reassessment Advisory Committee (TRAC) is taking FQPA. TRAC was formed after a letter from Vice President Al Gore urging a slower pace of implementation of the act. He asked that FQPA be considered using sound science and that affected constituents be given a chance to participate in the process. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) pulled out of TRAC recently because the EPA hasn’t "banned any pesticides yet," according to EWG’s President Ken Cook.

"In my view Consumers Union has probably weakened their own credibility in FQPA by resorting to these tactics instead of working through other mechanisms," Naasz said. "We have to make sure the decisions are based on sound science, not scare tactics."

Consumers Unions’ press release said "FQPA could require the EPA to ban or severely restrict many of the high-risk insecticide uses responsible for the greatest part of the toxicity loading revealed by the PDP data. Unfortunately, the EPA is making only slow progress in implementing the new law, and is faced with fierce resistance from agricultural interests and pesticide manufacturers."

The Fruit Growers News