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WASHINGTON — The yearly release of pesticide residue data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture should be framed in a way not to discourage people from consuming fresh produce, 18 produce trade groups wrote Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in an April 27 letter.

The USDA publishes an annual summary of pesticide residues in food under its 20-year-old Pesticide Data Program, and produce groups wote that they are concerned that earlier reports have been “mischaracterized repeatedly by environmental activists and new media to the extent that it has discouraged people from consuming fresh produce.”

The latest report has yet to be released.

The problem, the letter said, is that the report has been misinterpreted by activists and that the results have been detrimental to growers of certain commodities.

“Since September of last year, we have reached out to work with key officials in your department to consider updates to the report,” the groups told Secretary Vilsack in the letter. “We appreciate the dialogue and outreach from the USDA officials involved in the development of this report; however, we remain concerned that the PDP report and the important information it contains will continue to be misused.”

The vast majority of residue detections in past reports are below 5 percent of the tolerances set by the Environmental Protection Agency, yet the report does not emphasize that fact in the analysis.

“While the USDA is not responsible for intentional mischaracterization by others, we strongly encourage the USDA to provide the American public with a report that clearly reflects the strength of the regulatory system and the safety of products used to bring fresh fruits and vegetables to consumers,” the letter said.

The groups that expressed concern about the USDA’s past handling of the pesticide report are the American Mushroom Institute, the California Grape & Tree Fruit League, the California Strawberry Commission, the California Tomato Farmers, the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association, the Florida Strawberry Growers Association, the Florida Tomato Exchange, the Georgia Fruit & Vegetable Growers Association, the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas, the National Peach Council, the National Potato Council, the National Watermelon Association, the Northwest Horticulture Council, the Produce Marketing Association, the Texas Produce Association, the United Fresh Produce Association, the U.S. Apple Association and he Western Growers Association.