AFF Analysis Shows Science Can Prevail, Counter Misperceptions




Contact:  Marilyn Dolan or Teresa Thorne

(831) 786-1666

A five-year analysis of media coverage of  the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG)  annual release of its “dirty dozen” list showed efforts to counter this misinformation by the Alliance for Food and Farming (AFF) resulted in EWG’s once dominant one-sided media coverage to decline by more than half (99.8% down to 48%).  Further, the analysis showed the AFF began enjoying its own “one-sided” stories with almost 30% of total “dirty dozen” media coverage reflecting AFF science and information only at one point during the campaign.  The AFF information emphasizes the safety of both organic and conventional produce and urges increased consumption for better health. 

“Science can prevail and effectively counter rhetoric and inaccuracies generated and perpetuated by activist groups,” says Matt McInerney, Chair of the AFF Management Board and Executive Vice President of Western Growers Association.  “By providing consumers with peer reviewed science, analyses by university scientists and experts plus access to credible spokespersons, inaccuracies and common misperceptions about produce safety and pesticide residues were countered and corrected by the AFF informational campaign.” 

The media analysis focused on EWG’s annual “list” release because, prior to the AFF efforts, this had become one of the main sources of misinformation about produce safety targeted toward consumers.  Left unchecked, the AFF Management Board was concerned that this misinformation about produce safety was undermining efforts to promote increased consumption of these healthy foods.  Therefore, in 2010, the AFF launched its Safe Fruits and Veggies initiative with a goal of providing consumers with science based information so that facts, not fear, could guide food purchasing decisions. 

“We knew that science was on our side regarding concerns about residues, we just needed to communicate in a concise and more easily understood  manner, which began with the creation of the website,” says Marilyn Dolan, AFF Executive Director. “To date, no group has questioned any of the information found at, which underscores the quality of the science.”

In addition to more balanced coverage, the analysis showed an overall decline in total mainstream media coverage and reach of EWG’s “list” release.  “Two years into the campaign, we saw many of the larger mainstream print publications were no longer covering EWG’s list release after consistently generating stories year after year,” Dolan says.  “The analysis also showed that some prominent media outlets’ coverage of the annual ‘list’ release focused on AFF’s science and information exclusively.”

The Safe Fruits and Veggies initiative has also resulted in EWG modifying its messaging about conventionally grown produce.  “While they still call conventionally grown produce ‘dirty’ and ‘toxic laden,’ EWG now acknowledges that they believe conventionally grown produce is safe to eat,” Dolan says.  “And, last fall, the EWG ranked conventionally grown produce as a ‘best’ food for consumers and urged increased consumption. These statements makes one wonder why they continue to release the ‘dirty dozen’ list at all.”

Recently, a new peer reviewed study showed that the AFF Management Board’s concerns about the impact of inaccurate and negative safety messaging, carried by groups like EWG, was warranted.  The study conducted by the John Hopkins Center for a Livable Future found that conflicting messaging on food safety and nutrition may be having a detrimental impact on the dietary choices of consumers, especially those with lower incomes.  Researchers involved in the study recommended that “those who want to improve food production techniques and those who want to improve nutrition cooperate to create consistent messaging about healthy eating” for the benefit of consumers.

“In the last five years we’ve made great strides to take back our brand and stop the disparagement of safe and healthy fruits and vegetables but there is much more work to do,” says Bryan Silbermann, AFF Board Vice-Chair and CEO of the Produce Marketing Association.  “The success of the AFF’s Safe Fruits and Veggies initiative shows how effective we can be when we work together toward a common goal. But, we must keep pushing so that consumers have truthful, credible information about the safety of their produce so they can make the right food choices for themselves and their families.”


The Alliance for Food and Farming (AFF) is a non-profit organization formed in 1989 which represents organic and conventional farmers and farms of all sizes.  AFF contributors are limited to farmers of fruits and vegetables, companies that sell, market or ship fruits and vegetables or organizations that represent produce farmers.  Our mission is to deliver credible information to consumers about the safety of fruits and vegetables.  The AFF does not engage in any lobbying activities, nor do we accept any money or support from the pesticide industry. Learn more about AFF activities and joining our organization at