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Administration Releases Long Overdue Pesticide Data

For Immediate Release: 
Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Washington, D.C. – The U.S. Department of Agriculture ignored the intense pressure from the produce and pesticide industry and released its extensive annual analysis of pesticide residues on fresh fruits and vegetables this week without downplaying any of the findings. The release of the data comes after leading scientists and over 50,000 EWG supporters registered objections with USDA, Environmental Protection Agency, and Food and Drug Administration to the unusual delay in making the information public. In past years, the government made test results made public in January; this year they were four months overdue.

USDA has not explained why the data took longer than usual to be released this year. The data tables are presented in the same way as past years, but the new information does include for the first time a two-page document titled: What Consumers Should Know.

“We are gratified that the agency resisted an unprecedented lobbying campaign by the pesticide and produce industry to get the government to spin the test results and downplay consumer concerns about pesticide contamination. Now consumers can use the new data to make informed choices to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables while minimizing pesticide exposure,” said Environmental Working Group President Ken Cook.

The produce lobby spent the past year aggressively pressuring the administration to combat public unease about the widespread pesticide contamination of fruits and vegetables. Part of the industry’s campaign was funded by federal taxpayer dollars through a $180,000 grant awarded by the California Department of Agriculture to support the pesticide front group, Alliance for Food and Farming, which claims that misuse of the pesticide data is to blame for decreased consumption of fruits and vegetables. The organization has more than 50 members including the lobbying group United Fresh, which represents produce growers and the world’s biggest pesticide manufacturers.

EWG has filed a Freedom of Information Act request for all of USDA’s recent communications with produce and pesticide industry representatives to shed light on whether the taxpayer-funded AFF marketing grant has been improperly used to support its lobbying efforts.

“It is the first time we have seen the produce industry go to such great lengths to do the pesticide industry’s dirty work instead of listening to consumers’ concerns about pesticides,” said Cook. “Consumer surveys have long shown that Americans want fruits and vegetables without pesticides on them. But the produce industry has decided to join the pesticide lobby in a campaign to convince consumers they’re wrong—and use taxpayers’ money to do it.”

Scientific studies have shown that a number of pesticides can cause persistent problems in children's brain development. Three recent studies showed that children born to mothers with significant pesticide exposures had IQ deficits, including one study that found a seven-point drop.

EWG scientists will use the new data to update the annual Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides, which ranks produce according to the amount of residues each type carries in the USDA tests. The new guide will be published in the next few weeks and will include the latest test results.

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EWG is a nonprofit research organization based in Washington, D.C. that uses the power of information to protect human health and the environment. http://www.ewg.org

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