GroundTruth Blog

Karl Tupper's blog

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Stories about pesticide residues on food are making the rounds again. After my umpteenth media call, a blog seemed in order.

As I told the LA Times, here's my basic response: "It’s the farmers, farmworkers and residents of rural communities who are really most at risk" from pesticides, not consumers. While these folks are exposed to pesticides from food like the rest of us, they also must contend with pesticide fumes drifting out of fields, exposure from working directly with pesticides, and pesticide-coated dust and dirt tracked into their homes from the fields. Tom Philpott of MotherJones, nails this topic.

Karl Tupper's picture

Apples and celery this week. Cilantro a couple back. Stories about pesticide residues on food are making the rounds again. After my umpteenth media call, a blog seemed in order.

As I told the LA Times, here's my basic response: "It’s the farmers, farmworkers and residents of rural communities who are really most at risk" from pesticides, not consumers. While these folks are exposed to pesticides from food like the rest of us, they also must contend with pesticide fumes drifting out of fields, exposure from working directly with pesticides, and pesticide-coated dust and dirt tracked into their homes from the fields. Tom Philpott, newly migrated to MotherJones, nails this topic.

Karl Tupper's picture

It seems like a no-brainer: If you happen to live or work or go to school across the street from a field or orchard where pesticides are sprayed, you might think, "Maybe I'm breathing some of these pesticides." Especially when the wind blows from the field towards you. Especially when you can smell the pesticides. And you might also think, "Maybe this isn't good for me." Especially when the guys applying the pesticides are wearing Tyvek spacesuits. Especially if you start feeling ill.

And you'd be right to think these thoughts, even though most growers and pesticide applicators will tell you that you're crazy and have nothing to worry about. For years PAN's been working with concerned communities to show that these exposures are real and need to be taken seriously. And now a new study by scientists from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and various states' Departments of Health, corroborates what we've been saying all along.

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In my last post, I asked "Where's the data?" — specifically the latest installment from the USDA's Pesticide Data Program, which tests thousands of food samples for pesticide residues every year. The PDP data is the basis for our WhatsOnMyFood.org website that allows you to see which pesticides are found on food (and in water), how often, in what amounts, and with what associated health risks.

After months of delay, the data is finally out. In a nod to the produce industry (who had complained about "misuse" of the data by "activist groups") the USDA included a two page "What Consumers Should Know" factsheet with the report, but otherwise the presentation of results and data is the same as it's always been. And then there's cilantro.

Karl Tupper's picture

As we reported in last month's update of What's On My Food?, USDA's 2010 pesticide residue data has been mysteriously delayed for five months.

As we suspected, it seems the produce industry isn't happy with the way USDA has been presenting its annual public summary of the data, and has been pressuring the Department to make changes. In a letter sent to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack last month, they charge that the annual report "has, in previous years, been mischaracterized repeatedly by environmental activists and news media to the extent that it has discouraged people from consuming fresh produce." Apparently "mischaracterized" is industry-speak for "brought to the attention of the public".