Science can prevail. By providing peer reviewed science, analyses conducted by university scientists and experts plus the use of credible, qualified spokespersons, misinformation and common misperceptions about produce safety can be effectively countered and corrected.
In 2008, the Alliance for Food and Farming’s Management Board determined it was necessary to “take back our brand” and directly engage on the pesticide residue issue to counter common misperceptions regarding the safety of produce. It was the intent of the AFF Management Board that consumers receive balanced, factual information about the residue issue so that facts, not fear, would guide shopping choices.
The Board unanimously agreed that the approach must be science-based to be successful. The Board also agreed that the AFF was uniquely positioned to manage this campaign because of its qualified staff, its credibility (it represents farmers or farm groups only) and, through the AFF, industry could speak with one voice on this complex issue.
This science based approach was especially important since one of the key objectives of the Board was to counter misinformation and claims made by the Environmental Working Group during its annual release of the “Dirty Dozen” list. Since many regard the EWG as a “credible” source of information and the organization is well staffed, powerful and well funded, it was imperative that AFF’s information for consumers be above reproach in order to achieve stated objectives.
Therefore peer reviewed science and analyses by academics and experts became the foundation for the safefruitsandveggies.com website – the cornerstone of the AFF’s campaign. The website was launched in 2010 and has served as an information resource for key audiences, including consumers, the media, nutritionists/dieticians, the trade and farmers themselves.
Through the creation of the website and the information housed there, the AFF was able to develop a fully supportable and validated message platform based upon strong science, consumer research results and decades of nutritional research. To date, no group has questioned the science or information presented, which underscores the effectiveness of the AFF’s strategic approach.
To determine the effectiveness of this produce safety initiative, the AFF conducted a five-year analysis of media coverage of EWG’s annual “Dirty Dozen” list release (2010 to 2014). The analysis examined “balance” in print and broadcast media reports as its key measurement. In 2010, 99.8% of all stories about the “Dirty Dozen” list carried EWG messaging exclusively without any challenge or questioning from reporters. So, there was effectively zero balance in any stories, including those from large, reputable media outlets like the Washington Post, LA Times, Chicago Tribune, CNN and CBS News among others.
In just one year, the AFF Safe Fruits and Veggies campaign was responsible for increasing balanced coverage in 50% of the stories covering the “Dirty Dozen” list in 2011. By 2013 (the campaign’s most successful year), 29% of media coverage carried AFF messaging and information exclusively – now “unbalanced” in our favor and 23% percent of the total coverage was balanced. Since the campaign’s inception in June 2010, AFF efforts resulted in EWG’s once dominant one-sided media coverage to decline from a high of 99.8% down to 48% of the total coverage.
We have come a long way from zero: The amount of balance achieved since the campaign’s inception shows the effectiveness of a science based campaign and a strategic outreach approach.
We are stronger together: The success of the Safe Fruits and Veggies campaign shows the strength of the fruit and vegetable industry when we pool our resources, consolidate our messaging and work together toward a common goal in a cohesive manner.
There is more work to do: The campaign, especially in 2012 and 2013, showed what can be achieved when science based information is effectively disseminated. We are currently seeing that in 50% of the coverage – that percentage needs to be increased to meet the Board’s objective to provide consumers with balanced, factual information so facts, not fear, can guide their shopping choices.