What is in this article?:
- The fundamental misunderstanding of the plight of agricultural producers stems from the idea that farming is, or should be, natural.
- Technology is essential tool to feed the world.
- Fear and rumor hurts agriculture.
Rumor and fear
The StarLink scare was perpetuated by rumor and fear and not science or substance. However, StarLink was removed from the market out of genuine concern and an abundance of caution. It was no different than the Alar scare in apples, circa 1989, when CBS’ 60 Minutes reported that “the most potent cancer-causing agent in our food supply is a substance sprayed on apples to keep them on the trees longer and make them look better. That’s the conclusion of a number of scientific experts, and who is at risk? Children who may someday develop cancer.”
That report started a panic almost overnight and soon the story was picked up by Phil Donahue, The Today Show, CNN, Women’s Day, The Washington Post, and The New York Times, to name a few. Even actress Meryl Streep joined the fray with her founding of Mothers and Others for Pesticide Limits.
The mass hysteria that ensued led to mothers dumping all their apple products. Apples were removed from school lunches and rotted on grocery store shelves. The market for apples and apple products fell so quickly that 20,000 apple farmers suffered and many of them ended up in bankruptcy. Then, because the Consumer Group Citizen Alliance decided they hadn’t cheated enough farmers out of their livelihoods, they claimed Alar was being used on grapefruit, even though Alar was never used on citrus. Tons of grapefruit headed to South Korea and elsewhere were left to rot on the dock as export shipments were reduced by 90 percent.
The Alar scare was nothing more than a scandalous, deliberately misleading fund raising campaign led by the Natural Resources Defense Council, a self-appointed environmental activist group. Alar had been used since 1966 by some growers to help prevent early drop; thus extending the harvest season, shelf life, and even the nutritional value of the apples. The amount of Alar fed to the lab mice by NRDC would have been the equivalent of an average adult eating 28,000 pounds of Alar-treated apples every year for 70 years.
This is not to say that it was the Alar residue rather than an impossible overdose of a natural compound in the apples causing the cancer in the mice. NRDC petitioned the EPA to reconsider the Alar label and a “special review” panel considered this petition. The Scientific Advisory Panel for the EPA concluded NRDC’s evidence was flawed and rejected it on its baseless and ridiculous nature. This matter was decided three weeks before CBS aired the Alar story. What a waste. What a tragedy for all of my brother farmers and their families.