A new web-based survey by the Alliance for Food and Farming (AFF) found that 95 percent of registered dietitians (RDs) agree it is important for consumers to know that conventionally grown produce is safe because not all consumers can afford organic produce.
In addition, 94 percent of the 175 RDs who took part in the survey agreed that inaccurate, fear-based messaging regarding pesticide residues has a negative impact on consumers because it causes misplaced concern about whether conventionally-grown fruits and vegetables are safe to eat.
“Our goal was to better understand the challenges faced by registered dietitians and nutritionists to increase consumption of fruits and vegetables in the daily diets of their clients and consumers,” said Teresa Thorne, AFF’s executive director.
“Peer-reviewed research had previously shown that fear-based messaging regarding residues resulted in low-income consumers stating they were less likely to purchase any produce – organic or conventional. We wanted to learn more about what RDs were experiencing and hearing firsthand.”
Formed in 1989, the nonprofit Alliance for Food and Farming represents organic and conventional farmers and farms of all sizes. Alliance contributors are limited to farmers of fruits and vegetables, companies that sell, market or ship fruits and vegetables or organizations that represent produce farmers.
All of the RDs who participated in the survey had more than 10 years of experience, with 74 percent working in the medical/hospital/health care fields and 19 percent stating they were self-employed or consultants.
Ninety-three percent of the RDs in the survey also agreed that consumers should eat more fruits and vegetables every day, whether organic or conventionally grown. According to the RDs, both are safe and can be eaten with confidence.
But conversely, when asked specifically about the so-called “dirty dozen” list, which recommends avoidance of 12 popular non-organic fruits and veggies, 81 percent of RDs in the survey stated the list discourages consumption.
And when shown recent infographics developed by the “dirty dozen” list authors, the survey found that 95 percent agreed the information discouraged consumption.
In response to an open-ended question, RDs also shared their biggest challenges in promoting a diet rich in fruits and vegetables. Sixty-nine percent cited costs and financial constraints. The second most mentioned challenge, according to the survey, was “lack of information/misinformation” at 21 percent.
Some examples given by the RDs included confusion when it comes to the benefits of organics, contradictory diet-related advice and being unaware of the nutritional value of produce.
These were followed by survey responses more traditionally found when asking about consumption barriers, including lack of preparation time, taste preferences, convenience and limited access to healthy foods.
When asked about the importance of food safety, 63 percent agreed concerns about what is safe to eat is a factor when encouraging consumers to include enough fruits and veggies in their diet.
When prompted by the survey to specifically identify the biggest food safety concerns among consumers, “pesticides/chemicals/GMOs” and “bacterial/fungal contamination such as E.coli and Salmonella” were most frequently cited.
According to the AFF, since science and government sampling data repeatedly shows residues “pose no food safety concern,” the survey responses underscore how misinformation may be impacting public health efforts to improve diets.
The AFF also commissioned a panel of RDs to review the research findings and provide their input on needed next steps. The review panel was led by Elizabeth Shaw, MS, RDN, CLT, CPT, and its participants included: Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN; Alex Caspero, MA RD, CLT; Sylvia Klinger DBA, MS, RDN, LDN CPT; and Manuel Villacorta, MS, RDN.
“With today’s media landscape, qualified health professionals like RDs are already facing an uphill battle to properly convey the nutrition research amidst the headline hype that constantly takes over consumer feeds,” said Shaw, a health and wellness consultant and founder of Shaw Simple Swaps.
“These survey results show the nature of this challenge and the work we have cut out for us to ensure more people feel confident and safe with their produce choices, be it organic or conventionally grown.”
The RD panel recommended the AFF should continue to: provide peer-reviewed research results regarding produce safety and residues to the dietitian community; emphasize nutrition-based studies that illustrate the health benefits of eating more produce each day; and promote actionable steps for consumers, such as washing fruits and vegetables, to help alleviate residue concerns.
“With just one in 10 Americans eating enough fruits and vegetables each day, and with decades of nutritional research clearly showing the significant health benefits of eating more produce, we must support consumers’ choice of eating conventional and organic fruits and vegetables and the daily efforts by RDs and other health professionals to encourage increased consumption,” Thorne said.
For more survey results and information on the RD panel’s recommendations visit the AFF’s new Dietitian Webpage.