The recent scare over the safety of fruit has caused some people to think twice about eating apples and grapes, but a Brigham Young University professor says the fear is an over-reaction.
Ron Walser, an associate professor of horticulture specializing in fruit production and pest management, said there is no scientific basis for the report of harmful pesticides in apples.In February the Natural Resource Defense Council released a report titled "Intolerable Risk Pesticides in our Children's Foods." That report, along with a CBS "60 Minutes" show on Alar - the targeted chemical - and backing by actress Meryl Streep have caused schools and day-care centers throughout the nation to throw out their apples.
"To pull all fruit is ridiculous," Walser said. "They will take away the apples and give them a candy bar with more toxins in it than a million apples."
Alar - or daminozide - is not a pesticide, but a growth regulator sprayed on trees to increase the red color of apples and to make them firmer so they will store longer, he said.
The Natural Resource Defense Council report claims that pesticide residues on many fruits and vegetables pose a health danger, especially to children.
"There is no basis for it, except that uninformed people are pulling at our heart strings," Walser said. "There are more toxins in one can of beer than you will ever get from eating fruits and vegetables every day for a year."
Rats tested in the past three years for exposure to Alar did not develop tumors, even though they were injected with 4 million times the tolerable rate allowed for spraying, which is 20 parts per million for apples.
Walser said most fruit is treated with less than five parts per million. "The risk is extremely small. It is certainly not any more risky than eating salt. It would kill rats faster if you gave them salt."
Gary Booth, a zoology and toxicology professor at BYU, said a pesticide is not marketed until it has been studied for 20 years, which costs about $40 million, and is found to be safe.
Only 5 percent of the apples in the United States, mainly the McIntosh variety, are treated with Alar, Walser said. No more than 1 percent of Utah apples are treated.
Concern over feeding applesauce and apple juice to children is also unfounded, because when apples are to be processed for juices or sauce they are not treated with Alar, he said.
If chemicals are used within the levels allowable by law, the health benefits of eating fruits and vegetables far outweigh the risks, Walser said.
A recent news release from the American Council on Science and Health says that the Natural Resource Defense Council report has "no basis in scientific fact" and the council "deplores their attempt to raise anxieties about the safety of the American food supply."
Most recently grapes have become the target of unsafe fruit consumption when traces of cyanide were found in two grapes shipped from Chile to the United States.
Similar to the apple scare, Walser said, "To pull all grapes from the shelves when you can visually tell if there is cyanide is ridiculous."
Fruit turns black after cyanide is injected, he said. Small traces, as found in the two grapes, also disintegrate.
"We eat more cyanide in natural food products than was found in the two grapes. The scare has ruined half a year of production in Chile and really hurts the economy of the country."
A candy bar a day? BYU Associate professor of horticulture Ron Walser says that:
- A candy bar has more toxins than a million apples sprayed with Alar.
- One can of beer has more toxins than a person would get from eating treated fruits and vegetables every day for a year.