On the 19th, we ran in the PI a story in the P-I on a hazmat coalition involving King Country and three dozen other political entities that removed from its Web site and handout materials a wallet-sized shopping guide to
which fruits and vegetables contained the most and least pesticides.
The story explained that agri-business groups had urged the county to get rid of the guide. Washington Friends of Farms and Forests said failure to do so would end the very existence of local farmers.
And, as happens every time I write about pesticide residue in our food, my mailbox became clogged with opinions and suggestions from four continents. Really, four.
Some requests are anatomically impossible to comply with. Others are easy to address. For example, here is the link to the guide that the county says it’s rewriting. The data on which the card was based came from USDA analysis of more than 50,000 samples of food.
One thing that I could have stressed when talking about the card was that in most cases, even when residue from five or six different pesticides was found, the total amount of chemical present was usually infinitesimal.
Some of the mail came from people who said they were family farmers “already hanging on by their fingernails.”
I called a few of them to chat and their stories were similar: “Cards like this force people to buy organic.” Or, “we can’t compete with imported food because their labor costs are a fraction of ours and they can, and do, use all the pesticides they need.” Both true.
I also spoke to consumers who said they want to “buy local” because they trust American farmers, but they find that much of the non-organic food on the shelves come from many other countries. A thought repeated by several.
About six of the “farmers” with whom I chatted said they belonged to Ag groups like the “Friends of Farmers” mentioned above. When I asked them why their associations didn’t buy billboards or raise hell about imported food and the lack of government inspection, or why, at least they didn’t demand action from their congressional reps, to whom their groups or umbrella political action campaigns always donate, they replied “good question.”
Interestingly, two of the famers — one from Yakama and the other from Montana — both reminded me that people from the chemical companies that make pesticides sit on the boards of their associations and contribute a good bit of money to keep the groups going.
They also raised the obvious fact that the U.S. chemical companies sell pesticides that are banned in this country all over they world. Thus, looking too hard at what’s comiing back on imported produce would probably not get their support.
Nevertheless, I think I’ll look a bit closer at who’s watching the imports and I’m open to suggestions on where to look.