Choosing healthy food is complicated for consumers when they are faced with conflicting recommendations. In the case of the healthiest foods – fruits and vegetables – the choice should be very easy. Consumers simply should be eating more. Whether organically or conventionally grown, consumers can choose either with confidence. Unfortunately, this very simple “eat more” message universally carried by health experts, consumer advocates and environmental groups is being undermined by misleading information questioning the safety of these healthful foods due to pesticide residues. This information is often presented without scientific validity or credibility. The most recent example comes from the Dr. Oz Show – an entertainment daytime talk show. The Dr. Oz Show focused on pesticide residues and the alleged effects on children. Like many before it, this talk show ignored decades of scientific studies in the area of nutrition, toxicology and risk analysis that verifies the safety of fruits and vegetables and the importance of eating more. Since the show did not present science-based information and lacked balance, parents may well be confused about the safety of conventionally grown, more affordable fruits and vegetables. I have spent my entire career studying consumer behavior and attitudes toward food. I can tell you that the repetition of this negative safety messaging about fruits and vegetables is having an impact on consumers. And I’m especially concerned about low income consumers and their consumption patterns. For Dr. Oz and the show’s producers, there are many barriers to consumption of fruits and vegetables, but misguided safety fears should not become one of them. Further, when the overwhelming scientific evidence about the safety and healthfulness of produce is not presented to viewers, it borders on irresponsibility, especially when this show is supposed to be about improving health. While more research is needed on the impact of negative messages on consumers, a recent survey conducted by the Alliance for Food and Farming tested actual statements found in the media about the safety of fruits and vegetables and their impact on consumers. The survey showed that almost 10% of low income consumers said they would eat less fruits and veggies after reading those negative safety statements. Another 10% of low income consumers said they were confused over what to buy. Larger, more in depth studies are needed in this area, but these initial findings suggest that the information presented by Dr. Oz is driving people away from health-enhancing foods. Trying to create a difference between conventional and organic produce complicates the simple “eat more” message and is unnecessary. For consumers, there is only one right choice and only one wrong choice when it comes to eating organic and/or conventional fruits and vegetables. The wrong choice is eating less. The right choice is eating more. It really is that simple.

  • Has Alliance for Food and Farming explored reducing consumer mistrust by reining in pesticide application or increasing the monitoring of fruits and vegetables for those few items that do have elevated levels? 

    Americans should eat more fruits and vegetables. Americans fall woefully short of healthy dietary levels of fruits and vegetables. Instead of a healthy variety of fruits and vegetables, Americans are overconsuming foods that are leading to obesity, diabetes, coronary heart disease, etc.

    That being said, pesticide exposure has been linked to negative health outcomes. This study (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16451864) demonstrates that eating food produced organically does reduce the amount of pesticide residue in children’s body. Pesticides also pose a risk to the farmworkers who labor in fields and orchards. Many of these workers are migrants and have limited access to healthcare. Further, many consumers might be genuinely concerned about the effects that pesticide production and pesticide use have on the environment and ecosystem.

    I haven’t seen the episode of Dr. Oz that Dr. Bruhn is criticizing. I agree that all discussions of fruits and vegetables should contain encouraging words that will help Americans increase the amount of healthy foods in their diets. But I think AFF is not wise to expect that Americans won’t desire more information about the nuances of fruits and vegetables. 

    Fortunately, a large group of intelligent Americans want and deserve more information. AFF’s own research suggests that Americans do care about pesticides. Instead of resisting efforts to inform consumers, AFF should be devoting energy to producing the products preferred by consumers. The message from the consumer to the producer seems clear: When it comes to eating pesticides, the wrong choice is eating more. The right choice is eating less. It really is that simple.

    • Jackie Snyder

       I agree with everything you said about these foods. Apart from the part about eating less. In fact, we should be eating MORE organic vegetables. I think growing your own organic vegetables is a great thing to do. Growing your own is so much healthier than supermarket rubbish. My dad is quite green-fingered and he pointed me to this website – http://green-energy-at-home.com/wp/your-own-organic-garden – that taught me all about growing organic vegetables at home.

  • pawpaw

    Thanks for raising this issue.  As an organic farmer who sells direct to the public, I talk with parents who want more fruits and veggies in their child’s diet.  I also offer samples of fruits and veggies, at eye level for kids at our market.  Our “Farm Fresh Kids” program empowers children to purchase and eat these fresh foods.  
    Hence am aware of examples where a child breaks out (allergic rxn) when eating certain fresh foods.  According to the parents (some I’ve know for years and trust), their child does not break out when eating  the same items produced organically.  There simply are fewer undeclared products on my organic produce, compared to some conventionally grown produce at my market.The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has a ‘dirty dozen’ online, which lists produce with the greatest range of pesticide residues.  And the ‘clean fifteen’, which, on average, have less spray residues so can be consumed with less concern for such residues.  With this info, consumers and parents with concerns in this area can shop with more discrimination.  When purchased in season, local foods (including organic) can be price competitive with groceries, as several recent studies have documents.Because of the power of single anecdotes from friends or alarmist programs in the media, some parents are concerned, and we need to hear that out.  Giving them info to make discriminating choices helps a lot, and allows a third way, another narrative.  Between experts telling them the risks are negligible and other experts telling them (oft with the power of anecdotes) that the risks are significant.My graduate work and research included animal feeding studies.  Where we observed unexpected synergism between multiple chemical exposures.  As a parent, we don’t eat exclusively organic, but we do minimize consuming those foods with higher potential levels of chemical residues.  I want that option available for my family and others.  

  • Ptderouen

    Interesting information.  However you miss an important concern.  The poisons that are in many of our important foods.  Lettuce, Spinach, eggs, peanut butter not to mention meats.  What can we do about this problem.  I am beginning to think that terrorism is involved.  The more we eat, the more we increase the chance of being infected.

  • Justin

    Complete and utter nonsense. So we should downplay the dangers of pesticides, herbicides, industrial farming, and GMO’s because one unconfirmed survey showed a near statistically insignificant level of possible confusion in an undereducated population?

    This is a textbook strawman argument with no validity whatsoever. With your logic, why bother with facts or science because all they do is “confuse” the helpless masses.

    “Dr.” Bruhn, you should be embarrassed and ashamed. 

  • Wes K

    I was gonna type a longer response to this but the others really hit the major points. The only thing I would add is that this  reads more like PR piece from someone who is getting a lot of money from the large scale conventional/chemical fruit and vegetable industry, which is what the Alliance for Food and Farming is– a front group for that industry. Furthermore the use of Dr. Oz as her foil in this article is ridiculous. She makes it sound like Dr. Oz is promoting the opposite of eating more fruit and vegetables, Dr. Oz is a vegetarian who very often promotes plant-based or plant centric diets that are heavy in fruits and vegetables and whole grains. It just so happens that he also believes that a plant centric diet should minimize pesticide exposure as well.