In one corner, the USA Environmental Working Group (EWG) has recently released its annual “Shopper’s Guide“, including its annual list of fresh produce most likely to contain pesticide residues. In the other corner, the fresh produce industry, represented by the Alliance for Food and Farming (AFF), provided the media with pre-release coverage as to why the Shopper’s Guide is a waste of reading time and followed up with a list of peer-reviewed studies and government reports to discredit the EWG release.

This annual stouch is becoming legendary but as I mentioned in a post on 27th March, even the high ground taken by the AFF – that the EWG claims are inaccurate, that the detected residues do not pose a food safety concern and that organic versus conventional is a non-event – does not come out entirely clean when the mud hits the fan. And communication experts tell me that a little bit of mud sticks in consumers’ memories every time, to be retrieved when they are in their local grocer or retail chain store asking themselves “What should I buy? What’s the best food for my family?”

The situation in Europe is similar but different. It appears that European NGOs strongly influence the specifications of supermarket retailers, which increasingly demand chemical residue limits significantly more stringent than government standards. Sadly, those same NGOs aiming for greater environmental health and sustainability are jeopardising industry efforts to implement integrated pest management and pest resistance strategies.

So the lesson from this for growers in Australia and New Zealand remains the same. If you make ammunition for the opposition, chances are you are going to get hit. Know what residue limits are required to be met but plan to meet them by the maximum margin possible, not the minimum. Easy to say, but the better growers know that giving this their close attention often results in a better strategy and better results all round.

Originally posted on the on 31 July 2014

Image credit: Shopping List by Bruce Turner 2007 (Some rights reserved, CC BY 2.0)