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Growers, Grocers, State Pledge Food Safety Plan

Times Staff Writer

In what was called a first-ever alliance, representatives of California grocers, growers and government vowed Tuesday to develop a food safety program to assure shoppers that the produce they buy is safe.

Details of the program remain to be developed by a task force, which will meet for the first time Friday in Sacramento. But Don C. Beaver, president of the California Grocers Assn., said the goal is to provide consumers with “an implied warranty from the growers” that the fresh fruits and vegetables they bring to market are free of harmful chemical residues.

“We are the purchasers for the consumers, and we want safe produce in our stores,” Beaver said in Los Angeles, repeating a message delivered earlier Tuesday in Sacramento and San Francisco.

Jack C. Parnell, director of the California Department of Food and Agriculture, which tests fresh produce for harmful residues, insisted that the state’s food supply is “safe and always has been safe.” But, he conceded, “there is a confidence crisis.”

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Parnell, who has been nominated to the No. 2 post in the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said the new program represents the first time “the three Gs--grocers, growers and government--have stood up together in attempting to warrant to consumers in California that we believe our food supply to be safe.”

However, one consumer organization that has been waging a campaign against pesticide use, citing harm to the farm workers who apply the chemicals, immediately dismissed the program as “empty rhetoric.” The California Public Interest Research Group, or CalPIRG, called it “a major public relations strategy to regain consumer confidence.”

Beaver said the program would include financial support from the 7,000 retail outlets represented by the California Grocers Assn. Those funds would be used to increase inspection of produce “at the farm gate,” he said.

Supported by the farm groups, including Irvine-based Western Growers Assn., the program also urges government to require farmers to report use of all chemicals used on their crops. Growers and grocers also urged that violators of pesticide regulations be penalized “to the limits of the law.”

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Barbara Buck, representing Western Growers, said the marketing group’s farmer-packer members in California and Arizona are already reducing their use of chemicals. She cited statistics compiled by the Western Agricultural Chemical Assn. showing that use of farm chemicals dropped from 904.2 million pounds in 1977 to 634.4 million pounds in 1987.

Buck said growers are urged to adopt an “integrated pest-management” approach to protect their crops from insects, diseases, molds and weeds. Such an approach reduces use of chemicals in favor of introducing natural predators and the recently introduced technique of vacuuming bugs from such crops as strawberries and lettuce.


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