Eric Petruno/FlickrCalifornia's agriculture department doled out $17.2 million to various specialty crop projects.
The state’s food and agriculture department announced the winners of a $17.2 million federal grant designed to promote specialty crops, including vegetables, fruits and nuts, in the state.
Among the 63 winners were Sunsweet Growers Inc., which received $450,000 to develop a high-fiber breakfast prune bread, and scientists at UC Davis who received more than $80,000 to keep light brown apple moths from having sex.
But there was one grant winner that received the attention and ire of the Environmental Working Group, an environmental advocacy group based in Washington, D.C.
That group, the Alliance for Food and Farming, received $180,000 to “correct the public’s misconceptions about pesticide residues.”
According to the project’s description, the group’s goal is to “generate more balanced media reporting and change public perception about the safety of produce when it comes to pesticide residues.”
“Is it in California’s best interest to use taxpayers' money to give chemical-dependent industrial or conventional farming a competitive edge over organics?” said Don Carr, spokesman for the Environmental Working Group about the Alliance grant.
The Alliance took offense at the environmental group’s reaction.
“We really want to emphasize that we are not about discouraging information,” said Marilyn Dolan, executive director of the alliance. “We are about encouraging consumption of all fruits and vegetables – both organic and conventional.”
She said the grant is an effort to help educate consumers about the safety of produce.
“Consumers are not eating enough fruit and vegetables, and part of that may be a fear of pesticides,” she said.
Earlier this year, the Alliance attacked the Environmental Working Group’s “Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce,” a tip sheet created in 2000 to alert consumers about pesticide levels in conventional produce.
The California block grants were just a piece of more than $55 million the U.S. Department of Agriculture awarded nationwide. California received the biggest chunk of award money.
The prune bread project alone received more money than the states of Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Vermont, West Virginia and Wyoming, individually.
According to California’s agriculture department, projects were funded in eight categories: plant health and pest challenges; environmental concerns and conservation; food safety; agriculture and outreach; international trade; market enhancement and promotion; and healthy eating.