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“Even when all the experts agree, they may well be mistaken.” – Bertrand Russell<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />
Alar is a chemical which farmers used from 1969 to 1989 to help apples stay on the tree longer, promoting a better harvest and more appealing fruit for the public. Retailers also benefited from a longer shelf life for their apple stocks. It is amazing that a simple, seemingly harmless chemical was painted as such a dangerous substance, at least according to activists like Ralph Nader and organizations like the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).
In 1973 “researchers” discovered that laboratory mice fed large doses of Alar developed a rare form of cancer. The EPA dismissed these reports because the doses were absurdly high and this was a correct response because to duplicate the results seen in the mice a human would have to drink 19,000 quarts of apple juice every day for life! So why did the Alar scare ultimately inspire such panic and fear? School districts pulled apples from their menus, people stopped buying apples sending the industry into a tailspin, and one mother even sent the local police to her child’s school to retrieve an apple product from the youngster’s lunch box.
As revealed in the book Junk Science Judo by Steven J. Milloy, after years of wrangling to have Alar banned, all the panic and eventual banning of the chemical only happened after the NRDC hired PR firm Fenton Communications to promote a campaign to demonize this “dangerous” chemical. Steven writes, “Was the Alar scare about public health and safety? A memorandum from Fenton Communications about the scare revealed its real purpose. The memorandum stated in part: “A modest investment by the NRDC re-paid itself many-fold in tremendous and substantial revenue. The PR campaign was designed so that revenue would flow back to NRDC from the public.”
So what have we learned from the so called “Alar scare”? Do my readers have any input? Do you remember the media hype and were you ever made aware that a human would have to ingest massive amounts of apple juice to develop the same medical conditions that the mice did? (Mice which are specially bred to be more susceptible to diseases, but that’s a topic for a different day.) Personally I feel that most of the confusion comes from a media frenzy over the initial scare (if it bleeds it leads) and then very little if anything reported once the research has been debunked as junk.
Let’s face it people love to be scared, look at the incredible number of roller coasters being built at theme parks to attract patrons, and horror movies are some of the most popular films today. On the other hand you never see theme parks trumpeting the opening of their new, state of the art merry-go-round and you rarely see quiet, thoughtful films such as The Russian Ark promoted and talked about as much as the latest action flick. It’s more fun to be scared than to work a few brain cells, humans thrive on that sudden rush of adrenalin, even if it’s vicariously, it’s hardwired into our brains, it’s part of what helped us survive and evolve. Maybe the time has come, though, to balance that “need for speed” with some quiet reflection and occasional study about the information imparted to us every day no matter what the source.