Consumer advocate Ralph Nader urged the nation's grocers to pull "contaminated" California grapes from their shelves to support efforts to ban five pesticides linked to cancer, birth defects and other illnesses.
Nader and 15 national groups, ranging from the U.S. Public Interest Research Group to the American Public Health Assn., joined the United Farm Workers' grape boycott Tuesday.
California grapes are often tainted by the residue of pesticides that have caused death and deformities among farm workers and their children, UFW President Cesar Chavez told a news conference in Washington to publicize the widening of the boycott first launched more than two years ago.
In a video presentation, "The Wrath of Grapes," the UFW said 300,000 U.S. farm workers are poisoned each year by pesticides and that miscarriages and child cancer rates are abnormally high in McFarland and several other communities near the San Joaquin Valley vineyards.
Nader said he has sent letters to the nation's 30 largest supermarket chains, urging them to support the boycott. "They should be representing consumers, not growers," he said.
Chavez and Nader said 8 million pounds of pesticides are sprayed on grapes each year, with more restricted-use pesticides used on grapes than any other fresh food crop. Much of the spraying is for cosmetic purposes, they said.
Despite the heavy spraying, the Food and Drug Administration in 1985 tested only five samples of California grapes, Chavez said.
Nader plucked a bunch of grapes from a crate and held them over a rusty black chemical drum emblazoned with skull and cross-bones, saying, "I symbolically drop these contaminated grapes into the dump where they belong."
Test for Residues
Besides seeking a ban on the chemicals Captan, Methyl Bromide, Dinoseb, Parathion and Phosdrin, the groups said they want a joint UFW-grower program to test for pesticide residues on grapes and "free and fair elections for farm workers and good-faith bargaining by growers" to protect the health of grape workers exposed to the pesticides.
Chavez said the boycott will succeed if it garners support from between 7% and 9% of Americans. "We're about halfway there already," he said.
Reaction from the California Table Grape Commission and an independent group of California grape growers and workers was swift and angry.
Commission President Bruce Obbink said if all five chemicals were banned in agriculture, "you'd deplete the produce department. There'd be nothing in there. Mr. Nader has been misled here. He's lending his support to a unionization effort. Probably unknowingly."