The Deukmejian Administration is going the wrong way in trying to calm consumer fears about pesticide residues on food. It's up to the Legislature to stop the governor's move toward an expensive public relations campaign that will not increase consumer protection.
At issue is the Quality and Safety Assurance Program that the California Department of Food and Agriculture wants to establish. After the recent controversy over use of the chemical daminozide--or Alar, a possible carcinogen--on apples, the department proposed selling growers a state certification seal to put on their produce if they met existing pesticide regulations. The catch is, that even when a grower follows existing regulations, the crop may not be free of pesticides. Most food is not tested for pesticide residues under current regulations, and the proposal would give assurances that food is safe when it may not be.
The department planned to put the program into effect quietly. But once journalists, including Times staff writer Richard C. Paddock, reported on the idea, the Deukmejian administration was forced to go to the Legislature for budget approval. The measure has been bottled up--but not killed--in the Assembly and comes up Monday in a Senate budget subcommittee.
It's time to send the agriculture department and the lobbyists who backed the measure a stern signal that public relations gimmicks won't do. In its place, there should be a testing and certification program that really does more to reduce risks from pesticides.