Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Great Cranberry Scare of 1959

By Rich Kozlovich

For years I have been distressed at the lack of aggressive reporting by the information deliverers of our industry; including Pest Control Technology, Pest Management Professionals, the National Pest Management Association and even the Professional Pest Management Alliance for not dealing with all of these health scares involving pesticides that are nothing more than junk science. Future articles will deal with scares that haven’t been properly defended against by our industry. There will be articles dealing with pesticides and cancer, autism, asthma, endocrine disruption, multiple chemical sensitivity syndrome, IQ, and even that most elusive scare of them all known as the “window of vulnerability”.

For all of my adult life I have heard about products that “must” cause cancer because they have been tested for carcinogenicity on rodents. How did all of this scare mongering get started?

A weed killer known as aminotriazole was applied to cranberry crops in 1957, although it hadn’t yet been approved for that application until the following year. Tests showed that when aminotriazole was fed to rats, at a concentration of 100 parts per million, cancer could be induced in the thyroid, therefore it was declared carcinogenic by the Food and Drug Administration.

What does that really mean? The human equivalent would mean that human beings would have to ingest 15,000 pounds of cranberries every day of their lives for years. We have come to understand the insanity of this kind of testing in recent years, but the mentality still prevails. We also seem to fail to recognize that mice are not little rats and rats are not little people! Just because some product tests positive in mice doesn’t mean that it will even test positive in a rat; let alone people!

The EPA is aware of this, but they still insist on using these kinds of tests to determine what is and what isn’t carcinogenic. This isn’t the best science required by the Information Quality Act, but the EPA claims that these determinations don’t fall under the IQA because this is a matter of EPA policy, not science. I will be dealing with this in another article.

Although there were no detected residues in 1958, Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare, Arthur Fleming announced on November 9th, 1959 that cranberries from Oregon had been contaminated with aminotriazole and warned that other shipments from Washington and Oregon (which was 9% of the overall crop) may also be contaminated. He noted that Wisconsin, Massachusetts and New Jersey berries were not contaminated but he recommended that no one buy any cranberries at all ........15 days before Thanksgiving.

People went right over the edge. Michigan, Kentucky and Washington State called for “voluntary suspensions”. Ohio banned cranberry sales entirely. So also did San Francisco and Chicago. Restaurants and grocery stores purged their pantries and shelves of cranberry products and a nightclub in Chicago maintained a one to a customer limit on cranberry cocktails.

Although growers agreed to work with the FDA over this, they were furious at Secretary Fleming and demanded apologies and some even demanded he be dismissed from his post. The backtracking started immediately! In those days farmers were a whole lot more important to the politicians than green scare mongering activists.

Secretary of Agriculture Ezra Taft Benson publically stated that he would have cranberries for Thanksgiving. Vice President Richard Nixon and Senator John F. Kennedy, both running for President of the United States, really got into the act. Nixon had four helpings of cranberry sauce and Kennedy drank two glasses of cranberry juice. This made a huge difference! Although there were very real losses, if was far less than the 45 to 50 million (Fifty million dollars in 1959 had the buying power of about 365 million dollars today) than was anticipated. Far different from the fraudulent Alar scare of 1989 when farmers became far less important to politicians than green scare mongering activists!

We have learned that these types of risks are “infinitesimal” due to the “enormous” amounts fed to rats. “Dr. Edwin Astwood, a professor of medicine at Tufts University, noted that certain turnips naturally contained 100 times as much anti-thyroid potency as did any cranberries contaminated with aminotriazole.”

This pattern plays out all though nature in the foods we eat. Real scientists have always known this! However the public is just now coming to this understanding, in spite of claims of activists, the bureaucrats, the media and the political element that doesn’t care about anything except getting elected.

This event did exacerbate the public’s already chemophobic mentality because of “wildlife and conservation groups and … pure food enthusiasts, who believe that chemical residues on agriculture products pose a threat to (human) health”.

To put this in its proper perspective, Dr. Bruce Ames, Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, states that a cup (one cup mind you) of coffee contains 11 different carcinogens, and in that one cup of coffee you will consume more carcinogens than all the pesticide residue on all the food you will consume in one year.

Claus and Bolander note that “There are approximately 2 million organic compounds known. (This was printed in 1972. Currently there are over 4 million and 100,000 new compounds being produced every year and although, “the division between "organic" and "inorganic" carbon compounds while "useful in organizing the vast subject of chemistry... is somewhat arbitrary". I am not sure what are the significance of those numbers, since there “is no "official" definition of an organic compound. Some text books define an organic compound as one containing a C-H bond. Others state that if a molecule contains carbon it is organic.” It is enough to be said that the number of organic compounds is large, but whether the number is two million or ten million, natural or synthetic, is immaterial to the principles stated below.)

The majority of them are natural, but some have been produced in man’s laboratories. It is often stated that there is a clear difference between man-made chemicals and those which occur naturally, but the borders are actually fluid...many chemicals which were synthesized and first identified in laboratories were later found to occur in nature. Again the principle questions to be considered when talking about contamination with organic compounds are: how great are the amounts to which humans are exposed and what are the relative risks when compared with “natural” contaminants?”

The consequences of this scare are being felt today because it gave impetus to the 1958 Delaney clause, which was an amendment to The Food, Drugs, and Cosmetic Act of 1938, which “codified the ‘mouse-as-a-little-man’ principle” and that massive amounts of any product fed to rodents would have the same effect as “moderate doses” in human beings and the FDA’s (and Secretary Fleming’s) hands were tied.

We know this isn’t true! At some point the molecular load of any agent is far too small for cells to begin to respond to their presence. This is known as the “Threshold Principle”. “When the causative agent or source is below the threshold, one speaks of the ‘no-effect level’. In nature, the threshold principle operates equally in the realms of atoms, of cells, of whole organisms, and even in ecosystems.”

But the “public has been taught to fear trace amounts of chemicals regardless of the actual human health risk. And this boggy little brouhaha laid the groundwork for scares yet to come.”


The American Council on Science and Health, Facts Versus Fears, pgs. 6, 7.
Ecological Sanity, by Claus and Bolander, pgs. 188, 189, 212