Out in California where many trends across the country get started, the large agribusiness growers and big supermarket chains have spotted one that has them worried. Raley’s, a small grocery chain with 57 stores in central California, has teamed up with Stan Rhodes and his NutriClean firm to test increasing numbers of fruits for hazardous pesticides.
Beginning last year, readers of the Sacramento Bee and the Sacramento Union were treated to a unique kind of full page supermarket ad. Some samples: “Now An Orange Extra-Rich in Vitamin C and Grown Without the Use of Pesticides;” or “Hass Avocados: No Detected Residues of Insecticides, Herbicides or Fungicides;” or “Raley’s Introduces ‘Super Carrot’, Twice the Beta Carotene of Average Supermarket Carrots, Organically Grown – – No Pesticides.”
The ads then describe where this produce is coming from, as in location, name of the farmer and description of the land: to wit, “In the rolling coastal foothills near Ojai, California, the Wrigley family has been growing high quality navel oranges for over 35 years. Advanced soil fertility programs and modern pest management practices are two of many reasons the Wrigleys always harvest superior-quality fruit.”
Last year’s National Academy of Sciences report on pesticides and cancer jarred Raley’s into high gear. Tomatoes were considered by the Academy to be among the most chemically afflicted. Raley’s told its customers that “each week NutriClean, an independent food certification company, is laboratory-testing fresh produce items for Raley’s. . . We offer about 200 different produce products and it would be impossible to test every item, every week. Therefore, we are concentrating our scientific testing efforts on the produce items that could represent the greatest health risk if consumed with high pesticide residue levels.”
Soon Raley’s will start testing for superior nutritional contents, as they have done with carrots.
By now you may be wondering what much larger chains such as Safeway, A&P, Grand Union, Giant Food and others are doing? Nothing. They neither have a testing lab nor do they contract with a testing lab, nor do they independently require any written
certifications available to the customer. Their official response is that as long as the government pesticide control agencies permit the growers to sell, they, the supermarket companies, will buy for resale to consumers.
Raley’s rejects this evasion. This is one company that knows how weak, laggard and unenforced are government food safety standards. Earlier this month, Raley’s showed the press what it meant. At a news conference last month, the food retailer announced how it is avoiding buying apples that have been treated with the cancer-causing chemical, Alar.
First, Raley’s require their growers to certify that no Alar was applied to their orchards. Second, representative samples of apples from these orchards are lab tested by Raley’s to verify the certification. Lastly, Raley’s tests samples of apples as
they receive them from the growers. These tests show that their apples contain no residues greater than 1 part-per-million. The federal government allows up to 20 parts-per-million and rarely enforces that standard.
Does this growing effort by Raley’s register in increased sales? While Frank McMinn, Raley’s vice-president, says it does, he adds that the increased consumer confidence in the stores has intangible benefits as well.
One intangible benefit is the degree to which consumers around the nation start demanding similar testing procedures from the supermarket chains in their community. To receive more information about Raley’s NutriClean program, write to Raley’s, P.O. Box 15618, Sacramento, Calfironia, 95852, Attention: Pesticide Testing Lab. If you can’t wait for letters, telephone them at (916) 373-3333.
In a Reagan age of indifference to the health and safety of your food supply, the emergence of a retail food buyer, such as Raley’s, may signal an entirely new, direct market action, approach to sweep away the dangerous chemicals that come with food after they have endangered the many farm workers who harvest our crops. If more and more organic farmers are proving anything these days, it is that many hazardous farm chemicals are either not needed, ineffective, downright dangerous or overapplied. Consumers would do well to participate and enlarge this health movement.