INDUSTRY LAUDS REPORT ON PRODUCE BENEFITS

WASHINGTON -- A new report from the National Academy of Sciences is drawing wide praise from the food industry for validating the safety of fruits and vegetables.Retailers and other executives said the report confirms what many have said for years -- that the American food supply is among the safest in the world. The report found that the cancer-avoidance benefits of eating fruits and vegetables far

WASHINGTON -- A new report from the National Academy of Sciences is drawing wide praise from the food industry for validating the safety of fruits and vegetables.

Retailers and other executives said the report confirms what many have said for years -- that the American food supply is among the safest in the world. The report found that the cancer-avoidance benefits of eating fruits and vegetables far outweigh any risks from natural or man-made pesticides found in produce.

The report said Americans also face a greater likelihood of developing cancer by consuming excess fat and alcohol than they do from carcinogenic substances found in produce. The study was released by the National Research Council, the research arm of NAS.

"I think this report probably confirms what many reasonable people have long felt, that the benefit of fruits and vegetables far outweighs the risk of pesticides," said Paul Bernish, spokesman for Kroger Co., Cincinnati.

Mike Rourke, spokesman for A&P, Montvale, N.J., agreed.

"The produce department is a great place for consumers to get healthy food," Rourke said. "Obviously, we feel fruits and vegetables are healthy."

Shari Steinbach, director of consumer affairs for Spartan Stores in Grand Rapids, Mich.,

said the report should address natural fears consumers have about pesticides.

"Consumers can control the amounts of fruits and vegetables they eat. But with the availability of pesticides on fruits and vegetables, they get real concerned. They can't control that," Steinbach said.

Tom Stenzel, president of the United Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Association, Alexandria, Va., said the report should allow for an increased focus on eating a healthy diet, rather than on attempts by some advocacy groups to scare consumers away from produce.

"Common sense is officially endorsed," said Stenzel. "Consume a diet high in fruits, vegetables and grain products and low in fat and calories."

Kathy Means, vice president of membership and public affairs for the Produce Marketing Association, Newark, Del., said the report reiterates what PMA has said for years.

"Eating a diet high in fat and calories is worse than avoiding fruits and vegetables [because of fears of pesticides]," she said. A spokeswoman for the Organic Trade Association, Greenfield, Mass., said she did not expect the report to have an effect on the consumption of fruits and vegetables grown organically.

According to Anne Day, organic farming is about far more than simply avoiding pesticides and synthetic chemicals. Long-range agricultural issues are more at the heart of organics, she said.

The report found that more naturally occurring carcinogens exist in foods than synthetic carcinogens, and that both types are consumed at such low levels that they appear to pose little threat to human health.