Richard Wiles
Key Player

Co-founder and Vice President for Research, Environmental Working Group; editor, Alternative Agriculture; former project director, National Research Council; former executive director, Renew AmericaIn his writings, Richard Wiles is a bit more candid about his agenda than some of his colleagues at the Environmental Working Group (EWG). “You can reduce your health risks from pesticides in fruits and vegetables by half, and still eat a diet rich in all the nutrients and benefits they supply,” he writes in the introduction to A Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce. “How? Buy organic produce whenever possible.” (He’s also been blunt about EWG’s makeup, telling The Washington Post: “We are entirely funded by foundations [and] have no members.”)

There is a huge and obvious connection, of course, between EWG’s massive anti-pesticide communications strategy and organic-only food marketers. Wiles underlines the point himself, even more clearly, later in the same leaflet. “What do you eat, and what do you avoid, if you want to eat less pesticides?” Wiles writes. “You can buy organic, of course. We recommend it.”

To help push organic foods on a trusting public, Wiles and EWG are not afraid to bend the truth. “A panel convened by the National Academy of Sciences reported in 1993,” EWG has claimed, “that current pesticide standards are out of date. They allow too much pesticide in food, too little protection for infants.” This led Wiles to proclaim: “Infants should not be exposed to pesticides in food until they have been proven safe. There are currently no pesticide safety standards that specifically protect infants and children from pesticides.”

But the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) never said what EWG claimed it did at all. An NAS panel only said that because children may eat more of certain fruits and vegetables than adults and may be more sensitive to some pesticides, that perhaps standards should be re-evaluated to build in an even greater safety standard for children than the ones already in place.

Richard Wiles should have known better than to misquote the National Academy of Sciences: he used to work for NAS, in the years before he bolted to join Ken Cook’s Environmental “Worrying” Group. Wiles’s work at NAS also coincided with his tenure at the helm of Environmental Exchange, a failed green group that tried to clothe pesticide scares in the reassuring rhetoric of farmers, ranchers, and homeowners.

Regarding Wiles’s many misstatements, don’t bother asking EWG to publicly correct the record: to Wiles and his cohorts, rhetoric is far more important than substance. Case in point: in 1995 Wiles warned Ohio regulators that 269,000 people in Columbus had been exposed to “water contaminated with fecal coliform.” But as The Columbus Dispatch reported the following year, the American Water Works Association determined that the “contamination” amounted to two leaky faucets.