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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Farmers, Consumers React To Federal Pesticides Shift

Air Date: Week of

Martha Guild of member station WFCR in Amherst reports from western Massachusetts on farmers’ and consumers’ attitudes about pesticides in food. Despite the recent National Academy of Sciences report showing the increased health risk of pesticides, some consumers still don't consider farm chemicals to be a significant hazard — or a reason to alter their purchasing habits.


CURWOOD: To get a sense of how growers and consumers are reacting to the shifting signals on pesticides from the government, we sent reporter Martha Guild from member station WFCR in Amherst, Massachusetts out to talk with some people on farms and in stores.

GUILD: The Connecticut River Valley, which runs through western Massachusetts, has some of the richest farm land in the world. John Bauer farms 150 acres of a variety of vegetable crops. He doesn't like to use pesticides. Farmers here are trying to cut back. But he's worried about the impact on local farms, if the Federal Government clamps down on pesticide use.

BAUER: Restrictions on certain types of, certain pesticides would be disastrous for farmers. I think farmers should have input in this, I think that we really have to look carefully before we start yanking all these pesticides, because like I said before, my first, our first priority is to be profitable farmers, farming on land that is very, very much in jeopardy of development here in the Connecticut Valley and as a matter of fact all over the United States.

GUILD: Bauer says there's not a big enough market for food grown without pesticides. He has set aside a corner of his farm for growing organically, but says he can't sell everything he harvests.

BAUER: I'll give you an example. I've got eleven acres in organic production. Out of that eleven acres probably seven of it is going, seven or eight acres of it is going organically, sold as organic product, and four, three to four acres of that production is being sold as just conventional food. It's put in regular boxes, it's not labeled organic or anything.

GUILD: That means he takes a loss on the organically-grown food he sells to conventional stores.

(Sound of snapping peas being poured into box)

GUILD: There are some farmers in the Connecticut River Valley committed to growing without the use of chemicals. They say the NAS report is long overdue. Still, they doubt it will affect the market. David Jackson runs Enterprise Farms, a 20-acre organic farm, also in Whatley.

JACKSON: If people are really concerned about this, this is going to translate into an increased market for organic products and it's hard to say because that whole, that increase is going to definitely be dictated by not only the consumers but whether the supermarket chains and the larger buyers are going to be willing to put the produce back on the shelves, 'cause during the 80's they certainly were but at this point they've all but stopped buying products from us.

GUILD: But there are some stores that are stocking foods grown without pesticides. There's a large food store not far from here that sells only organically-grown foods. But at the conventional grocery store, Stop and Shop in Hadley, shoppers are not all that worried about the possible harm pesticide residue may have on their children's health.

(Sound of supermarket parking lot, grocery carts and cars)

SHOPPER I: I definitely take care of the fruits and vegetables that I purchase in terms of washing and peeling. It doesn't alarm me as, maybe as many other people have. I think certainly the levels that are used need to be, need to be looked into. But I, I'm not an alarmist.
SHOPPER II: I could care less about fruits and vegetables. We make them eat them, but I think they'd have to swallow an awful lot of contaminants, and why now? Why are they studying now? They should have been doing this a long time ago to see the effects on kids. I know certain foods and certain fruits and vegetables can react on children, I've seen that. But it wouldn't stop the way I purchase.
SHOPPER III: Plus I, you know, a lot of times you have to take some of the scientific reports with a grain of salt, you know, because it depends on the study and you know, it's, every week there's a new report coming out saying the opposite of what last week's report said.

GUILD: Here in the Connecticut River Valley, shoppers and farmers appear unmoved by the latest report on pesticides. Both are waiting for the Clinton Administration to unveil its plans for further regulating pesticide use before they change the way they grow and shop for food. For Living on Earth, I'm Martha Guild in Amherst, Massachusetts.



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