More than 50 organizations asked California officials to rescind a $180,000 federally funded grant awarded last month to the Alliance for Food and Farming (AFF), an industry communications group that focuses on food safety and pesticide use.

The groups opposed to the grant, which include the Environmental Working Group, National Resources Defense Council, and the Organic Consumers Association, say the AFF is an “agribusiness public relations campaign” that shouldn’t be supported with taxpayer dollars.

 They sent a letter to the California Department of Food and Agriculture this week to express “serious concern” over the grant, which AFF says it will use to “correct the misconception that some fresh produce items contain excessive amounts of pesticide residues.”

DC-based Environmental Working Group publishes an annual guide called the “Dirty Dozen” that ranks conventional fruits and vegetables based on pesticide residues.

In the letter, the opposing groups claim the grant “strikes a blow” at California’s growing organic produce industry.  They slam the state for a “fundamental failure” in implementing a fair and balanced grant selection process.

“Pesticide residues are a genuine problem: both peer-reviewed literature and the USDA food residue test database have found them on many conventionally-grown foods,” reads the letter.  “Scientists have expressed valid concerns about the health risks posed by some of these chemicals.  It is inappropriate for state and federal officials to categorically take the side of conventional agribusiness in this scientific and policy debate by funding a public relations effort designed to attack public interest organizations.”

The groups are requesting a full explanation from the state on its decision.