Fewer than a dozen Americans die each year from eating poisonous foods.

But that hasn't kept this country from overreacting to some overblown scares involving a needlessly long list of fruits and vegetables.Meanwhile, the public seems much less concerned about some much more serious threats to its health.

Because of scares involving insecticides, preservatives and possible cyanide poisoning, a long list of foods have come under a cloud in recent days. Among them are apples and bananas, plus such imports from Chile as pears, nectarines, grapes, raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, melons, cantaloupes, plums and peaches.

Now even Idaho potatoes have been added to the list merely because incomplete data based on worst-case scenarios evidently was leaked by a disgruntled employee of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Though the scares generated plenty of headlines, the good news has attracted much less attention. We're referring to the fact that the Food and Drug Administration is starting to let fruit from Chile back on the market, having concluded that it's safe to eat.

Sadly, too, Americans have seemed much more concerned about the exaggerated food scares than about such major threats to public health as alcohol, tobacco and pollution.

Only this week, for example, the EPA reported that each year U.S. industries release 2.4 billion pounds of toxic pollutants - which have been blamed for more than 2,000 cancer cases annually - into the air. That figure on toxic pollutants is at least three times bigger than previously believed. Yet the public reaction to this development so far has amounted to little more than a polite yawn.

Americans need a more realistic set of priorities. Though life cannot be lived under laboratory conditions, there's still plenty of room for improvement. But how much improvement can take place when so many people worry about the pebbles in their path and ignore the boulders?