A state government is taking some grocery chains to court to try to force them to post warnings about mercury in fish. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham explains:
A state government is taking some grocery chains to court to try to force them to post warnings
about mercury in fish. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham explains:
Just about any fish has trace amounts of methyl-mercury in it due to pollution. But some predator
fish, such as swordfish, shark, and some tuna have higher levels of mercury. The State of
California is taking five grocery chains that sell fish to court. It wants Kroger’s, Safeway, Trader
Joe’s, Albertson’s and Whole Foods to warn consumers that higher levels of mercury can cause
cancer, birth defects and reproductive harm. Tom Dressler is with the California Attorney
“I mean, one example would be to post a warning at the fish counters where the products are sold.
We’re not asking for warning labels on the packages. We just want a clear, reasonable warning
posted that informs consumers and does some good.”
The case is important because California often leads the nation in setting new standards for
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Lester Graham.
Bill Erwin and a number of other Michigan apple growers are involved in a huge project to reduce pesticide use in orchards. Erwin says he's among those who will continue the practice.
No one likes the idea of pesticides in baby food. But nobody likes the idea of a worm in an apple either. So apple growers have been involved in a three year project to reduce pesticides, but still turn out a crop that’s not plagued by insects. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:
No one likes the idea of pesticides in baby food. But nobody likes the idea of a worm in
an apple either. Apple growers have been involved in a three year project to reduce
pesticides, but still turn out a crop that’s not plagued by insects. The Great Lakes Radio
Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:
Gerber makes baby food. A lot of those little jars of fruit use apples in the mix. A few
years ago the Consumers Union, an arm of the magazine Consumer reports, called for the
end of the use of many of the pesticides that end up in children’s food. And the
Environmental Working Group issued a scathing report on pesticides in kid’s food. Like
other baby food makers, Gerber knew it had to do something. It started with improving
methods to wash off or peel off pesticide residue on apples. But, there was only so much
that could be done in the plant.
Todd DeKryger is with Gerber Baby Foods. He says Gerber’s plants did what they could
to get rid of pesticide residue, but it wasn’t enough.
“Our customers were telling us, ‘We don’t want residues in the products we buy from
Gerbers.’ We turn around and tell our growers ‘We need a product without pesticide
residues.’ And it’s really been amazing how they have really bought into that whole idea
of providing a product. You know, and they say ‘Hey, look. We fed our kids Gerber and,
uh, yeah, okay, this makes sense. Now, how can I help?'”
Gerber got some help from a firm based in North Carolina. The Center for Agricultural
Partnerships contacted Gerber at its main plant in Michigan as well as Michigan State
University’s Extension Service and apple growers. They had money to pay for
publications and free consultants for three years for growers who wanted to try a way to
control bugs in the orchards called ‘Integrated Pest Management’ or IPM.
Larry Elworth is with the Center. He says IPM. has worked for other types of fruit
growers, but expertise was needed for the particular climates and growing conditions in
Michigan’s apple orchards to make IPM effective.
“It’s become a way of managing pests that gives growers way more information to use so
they can actually outsmart the insects rather than always relying on a chemical as the way
to control them.”
(apple picking sound)
That all sounded good, but no one had tried it in the apple orchards on a large scale.
“Well, our main concern was whether it was going to work or not.”
Bill Erwin operates Erwin Orchards and Cider Mill.
(sound of rolling apples)
Apple pickers are plucking fruit and gently rolling the apples into a big wooden crate for
shipping to retailers. Erwin says it seemed risky to change farming methods in the
“We’ve been used to the chemistries. We’ve been used to the program and, uh, we
weren’t sure that using lighter chemistries was going to work and we weren’t sure that we
were going to be able to control the bugs.”
Erwin says pesticides are reliable. They kill bugs. The fruit looks good. And the orchard
is nice looking in that there’s no wildlife, bugs, birds or otherwise in the area for very
long. But Erwin says all the beneficial insects, such as ladybugs and spiders that eat bugs
that ruin fruit were also gone. Erwin says he noticed something else that bothered him –
humming bird nests – but no baby humming birds.
So, Erwin and a lot of other Michigan apple growers gave Integrated Pest Management a
shot. Erwin says they found using tactics such as mating disruption of pests works. The
worm in the apple is actually the coddling moth’s larvae which burrow into the fruit.
Apple growers used the female coddling moth’s pheremones against the insect. By
saturating the orchard with pheremones, males didn’t know which way to turn to find a
mate. No mate, no eggs. No eggs, no worm in the apple. And Erwin says he noticed
“Now we find humming birds. We find little baby humming bird nests everywhere in this
orchard. We see bluebirds out here. You never used to see those. And, so, we know we’re
doing something good with the environment and that makes us feel good about this
program. They’ve taught us something and it’s gonna be something we’re going to keep
And it appears the results are good.
The Center for Agricultural Partnership’s Larry Elworth says the three year project was a
“Growers had at least as good if not better quality apple crops than they had before. Fewer bites
from insects chewing on the surface. A lot fewer worms that had burrowed inside the
apples which gave them a higher quality crop and they actually got more revenue for
their crop than they’d been getting before. And they were also able to reduce their overall
costs for controlling insects.”
Gerber Baby Foods is relieved. By getting orchards closer to its plant to reduce pesticide
use, it’s ensured a local supply of apples. Otherwise, it meant trucking in fruit from
farther away and paying more for fruit that met consumers’ demands for pesticide free
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Lester Graham.
Recent press reports indicate that the Food and Drug Administration may soon consider lifting a four-year moratorium on mercury testing in fish. But FDA officials say there never was a moratorium. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Matt Shafer Powell has more:
Recent press reports indicate that the Food and Drug Administration may soon consider
lifting a four-year moratorium on mercury testing in fish. But FDA officials say there
never was a moratorium. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Matt Shafer Powell has
Officials at the FDA say they take all possible food contamination seriously. As a result,
they say they never stopped testing for mercury in fish. Michael Bender of the Mercury
Policy Project believes that’s partially true. He says the FDA has continually done what’s
known as a “market basket survey”. That’s a small sampling of the most popular kinds
of fish. But he says the agency did scale back on more comprehensive testing four years
“They still continue with their market basket survey, so you can’t say they didn’t do any
testing. But, you know, in order to get an adequate sampling size, you’ve got to do
hundreds of samples.”
The FDA did issue an advisory last year about the dangers of eating too much of certain
kinds of predatory fish, like shark. But Bender says the agency used old data and old
standards to support the advisory. He says more comprehensive testing over the last few
years might have lead to warnings about other kinds of fish as well.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Matt Shafer Powell.