Question: What do you think is the biggest public misconception about agriculture?
Fear is a highly motivating human emotion, causing people to make decisions not necessarily based on knowledge, but rather on feelings. Fear is not always rational and can spread with alarming speed. I believe the safety of our modern agricultural practices, specifically the use of crop protection products, is subject to a great deal of misunderstanding and fear. The speed of communication granted by the internet and social media has allowed both individuals and special interest groups to create a generalized anxiety around “conventionally produced,” or non-organic, fruits and vegetables.
A prominent example of this fear is the widespread publication of the Environmental Working Group (EWG)’s “Dirty Dozen.” Few people understand how this list was derived or what classifies a product as “dirty.” Regardless, many unaware consumers deduce that consuming non-organic products on the list will result in great harm to their health. The truth is far from that. An independent study published in the April 2011 Journal of Toxicology concluded that the detected pesticides on the “Dirty Dozen” list pose negligible risks to consumers, that substituting organic forms of the twelve products does not appreciably reduce consumer risks and that the methodology used by the EWG lacks scientific credibility. In addition, the study’s author noted in a separate publication that three-quarters of the pesticide/product combinations identified by the EWG showed exposure estimates more than one million times lower than doses given to laboratory animals continuously over their lifetime without showing adverse effects. Based on these findings, logic would dictate that humans are completely safe consuming non-organic fruits and vegetables.
Unfortunately, emotion trumps logic. And once consumers have established an emotional objection to non-organic produce, it is difficult to reverse those feelings. As members of the agricultural industry, it is the responsibility of every individual to promote the safety of modern agriculture, including the use of chemicals. We can challenge the naysayers and refute the negative claims. This is not something we can do overnight, but it is possible if we each make the effort to educate ourselves and communicate within our personal circles of influence. Our future depends on it.