Two Studies May Show Negative Impact of Confusing Safety Messaging

3/13/2017 6:26 AM

There has been a lot of recent attention on peer reviewed research published in Nutrition Today which found that fear-based messaging about produce safety and residues resulted in low income consumers stating they were less likely to purchase any produce – organic or conventionally grown.  But, this wasn’t the first study to reach this type of conclusion.  A study from the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future published in January 2015 had similar findings.

This peer reviewed study, published in the journal Culture, Agriculture, Food and the Environment, showed that conflicting messaging on food safety and nutrition may be having a negative impact on consumers, especially those with lower incomes.  

The researchers conducted one-on-one interviews with study participants in the Baltimore area to learn more about the way organic food is understood within consumers’ definitions of healthy food. The researchers stated that they explored this topic among consumers living in an underserved, low-income neighborhood because “this group is particularly important demographically given the disparate burden of diet-related diseases they carry and the frequency of diet-related messages they receive.”

Specific to produce and pesticide residues, the researchers included the following excerpt in their paper:

Some participants acknowledged that they hear competing health messages about foods, in which attributes of organic might conflict with other health benefits of the food, such as nutritional value. One participant described health messages about the importance of eating apples being contradicted by other messages warning of the effects of pesticides.

Among the peer reviewed study’s conclusions:

The issue of organic can swamp or compete with other messages about nutrition, as evidenced by the data presented here. Perceiving that there is an overwhelming amount of sometimes contradictory information about healthy eating could make some consumers defeatist about trying to eat healthily. Given the potential implications of competing messages about healthy eating, it is important that those who want to improve food production techniques and those who want to improve nutrition cooperate to create consistent messaging about healthy eating.

There are now two peer reviewed studies from respected academic institutions with similar conclusions about how confusing and contradictory safety messaging may be impacting consumers and potentially discouraging consumption of fruits and veggies – the very foods all health experts agree we should eat more of every day for better health and a longer life. 

Among the biggest culprits in spreading this misinformation and adding to consumer confusion about produce safety is the Environmental Working Group (EWG), specifically through their annual release of the “dirty dozen” list.  After two decades of promoting and advancing the concept that popular and safe produce items are “dirty,” EWG should reassess this tactic and evaluate their role and responsibility in fear becoming a potential barrier to consumption.


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