"What are you guys doing about all those pesticides in our food?"
That was the question posed to California's Department of Food and Agriculture Secretary Bill Lyons by an airport shuttle driver taking him to CAPCA's annual meeting in Anaheim a few weeks back.
Lyons responded as he has many times before to one of the most frustrating issues facing agriculture - the use of pesticides in producing food and fiber. As a family man, the last people he would ever place in jeopardy with pesticides or any practices on his farm would be his wife and four children, he told the urban Southern Californian. However, he did not stop there. He asked his interrogator how many people did he know who had become ill from eating food. Obviously, the answer was none.
Lyons told his story to CAPCA when he appeared before the pest control advisors, and he encouraged the PCAs to be candid and straightforward about their profession as he was with his shuttle driver. Too often people in agriculture apologize and go on the defensive when confronted with the pesticide issue.
"We do not have to be ashamed of what we are," he said.
No other organization has worked harder to communicate about the state's agriculture and its members' role in it than CAPCA.
But the frustration in communicating with urban California remains, as Lyons discovered once again.
CAPCA is continuing its efforts, but with a new twist. Gone are all the scientific jargons and explanations that leave consumers glassy-eyed. What CAPCA has embarked upon under the leadership of its public relations chair Diana Bartel and executive vice president Kim Krum is a simple message called "The Benefits of Pesticides - In Our Words." They are:
- "The benefits of pesticides far outweigh risks. The benefit of pesticides is the production of a bountiful and affordable food supply.
- "Pesticides provide benefits to farmers and agriculture because they eliminate unwanted, dangerous bugs that can destroy crops.
- "If pesticides are not used to protect crops, the quality and quantity of food will decrease and the price of food will increase.
- "California has the nation's toughest pesticide laws and maintains its own pesticide regulation and monitoring system.
- "By law, before a pesticide can be used in California, it must be evaluated, registered and pass inspections by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and California EPA's Department of Pesticide Regulation.
- "The safety of produce in California is ensured by sampling of pesticides by both U.S. Department of Agriculture and the California EPA."
Those benefits are listed on a small card Bartel and Krum are asking CAPCA's members to memorize and offer to people who raise questions about pesticides.
Notice it does not say pesticides are risk free, but benefits far outweigh the risks.
Notice also gone are the acronyms and terms like FQPA and IPM and organophosphates, carbamates and BT. Nothing wrong with those terms used in the industry, but the public is only confused by them. "Eliminating unwanted and dangerous bugs" is a language CAPCA believes is better suited to tell its message.
CAPCA's ace in the hole is a statement on the card from teledoctor Dr. Dean Edell who is quoted, "The levels of pesticides that are contained in the fruit and vegetables are all below what are established standards. I have never seen anybody prove any adverse health affect from eating any fruit or vegetable in this country containing anything in it."
It is a convincing message CAPCA should be commended for wanting to deliver.