An IPM Label on Supermarket Vegetables:
A First for the Nation
A partnership among growers, Wegmans Food Markets, Comstock Michigan Fruit, and Cornell has spawned the first IPM-labeled canned and frozen vegetables in the nation.
Been to Wegmans lately?
Checked out their canned vegetable shelves since mid-November? If not, you're in for a surprise. Wegmans is now selling canned peas and corn under IPM labels. Look for a blue ribbon with the acronym "IPM" and a map of New York centered in it.
The backs of the labels explain that "Through IPM, growers use less pesticide over time by taking other steps to reduce pest damage. Your purchase supports the efforts of growers who truly care about the environment."
"IPM" (integrated pest management) is a multifaceted approach to the problems growers face due to insects, diseases, weeds, and other agricultural pests. It focuses on alternatives to chemical pesticides, such as prevention and monitoring, biological controls, and pest-resistant plant varieties. The New York State IPM Program-created in 1985 as a partnership program of the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets, Cornell University, and Cornell Cooperative Extension-works with producers of 25 major crops in every county in New York to reduce their reliance on pesticides while maintaining high-quality, affordable products.
The new IPM labels represent the culmination of two years' efforts by growers, Wegmans, Comstock Michigan Fruit (the food processing company that supplies Wegmans' fruits and vegetables), and Cornell. These efforts have involved:
- Cooperative Extension educators teaching growers how to use IPM practices;
- growers, IPM experts at the experiment stations in Geneva and Ithaca, and representatives from Wegmans and Comstock jointly determining the "elements of IPM"-IPM protocols-for each of six vegetable crops plus fresh-market sweet corn.
- ownership of the New York State IPM Program logo by the Cornell Research Foundation;
- a license agreement giving Wegmans a nonexclusive right to use the IPM logo;
- verification by Comstock and Wegmans that the IPM growers followed the agreed-upon elements;
- brochures, radio ads, and in-store movies developed by Wegmans to enlighten consumers about the term "IPM" and how sustainable agriculture benefits us all.
One beneficial outgrowth of this effort is the defining of IPM in the form of the "elements." Curt Petzoldt, Assistant Director of the New York State IPM Program and a key player in this effort, points out that the elements have been designed "to be flexible so they will fit a lot of different operations with differing IPM needs. But within that flexibility, they provide a means for the public to begin to understand IPM and to become aware of the efforts that many farmers have been making toward environmental stewardship."
Not only do the IPM-labeled vegetables provide an opening for increasing consumers' understanding of growers' positive efforts, but they are a means of communicating to the public about the work of agricultural scientists at Cornell. "Talk about a direct link!" says Jim Tette, director of the New York State IPM Program. "These new labels represent the most direct link we have been able to develop thus far between consumers and the agricultural research and implementation we do at Cornell. They're a tangible message to the public that we are doing positive things-right here in Geneva and Ithaca."
Wegmans Food Markets first approached Cornell in 1994, seeking the means to offer its consumers IPM-grown sweet corn. Wegmans shoppers were so positive about the chance to choose IPM-grown, fresh-market sweet corn the following summer that Wegmans decided to expand to IPM-grown canned and frozen vegetables in 1996. Comstock Michigan Fruit, Wegmans's supplier of processed fruits and vegetables, easily found 10 of its growers who had already adopted most of the available IPM methods, and a deal was struck.
Now that IPM-labeled goods are available, consumers have the chance to cast their votes for the future of biointensive pest management by choosing these goods over other labels. If biointensive pest management is to expand "...farmers, consumers and others responsible for managing pests will make it happen by consciously choosing how to spend their money," suggests the author of Pest Management at the Crossroads (1996 Consumers Union, Yonkers, NY).
Look for IPM-labeled frozen vegetables at Wegmans stores early in 1997.