A September 17th announcement that $180,000 in federal funds have been granted to back a PR campaign to "correct misconceptions about pesticide residues on food" caught the attention of farmers and organic food advocates across the country, according to the Associated Press. The federal Specialty Crop Block Grants from which the grant will come are one of the only sources of funding to support the production and marketing of crops such as fruits, nuts and vegetables in California. Critics charge that awarding taxpayer dollars from this fund to a project that effectively advocates against the value of organic produce is therefore an inappropriate use of public funds.
The grant program was designed to “enhance the competitiveness of specialty crops“ and to help producers “deal with current major challenges such as drought, climate change, pests, food safety, as well as domestic and international market development.” Federal farm money, sustainable agriculture advocates say, should instead be spent on science and farmer innovation toward sustainability, not marketing campaigns that manufacture doubt about scientific findings and give eaters false assurances about pesticide residues.
"At issue is scientific integrity and transparency," said Dr. Margaret Reeves, senior scientist at Pesticide Action Network. "There is no debate over whether pesticide residues remain on conventionally-grown fruits and vegetables, and there are legitimate health concerns associated with these pesticides. That's why we built the What's On My Food? database, which provides USDA data and toxicology from multiple authoritative listings. The data are unimpeachable, and the public has a right to know."
California organic farmer Larry Jacobs joined other farmers, PAN, environmental health organizations and consumer groups in a letter to the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) denouncing the grant and asking the agency to “retract this award and take action to ensure that future grant-making serves the interests of all Californians.” In a separate letter to CDFA Jacobs wrote: “A much more appropriate use of tax dollars is to fund efforts that reduce farmer dependence and use of pesticides” such as biological control programs using predatory wasps instead of pesticides to control pests on such crops as broccoli, cauliflower and brussel sprouts." A good example of the 2010 Specialty Block Grant awards is that made in support of organic citrus growers to evaluate the efficacy of organic pesticides for the control of an emerging pest of high concern, the Asian Citrus Psyllid.
Farmers and researchers alike are aware of the dearth of resources allocated to bolster least-toxic farming practices, despite the consistently rapid growth of the market for organics across the country, especially among mothers and others concerned about the impacts of pesticide residues on children's growth and development.