Utah's apple producers, whose crop was worth more than $7 million in 1987, say they could lose $3 million in sales this year because of unsupported and distorted claims that apples are unsafe.

Most of Utah's apples are grown in Utah County, and orchard owners there say the county's economy could be hurt by recent claims by the National Resources Defense Council that Alar, a chemical widely used in the production of apples, is a suspected carcinogen and poses a serious health threat.Phil Muir, chairman of the Utah Apple Marketing Board, and Robert McMullin, chairman of the Utah Farm Bureau Fruit Crops Advisory Committee, said Friday the NRDC report seriously misleads the public. They said data which has emerged since the NRDC study was released supports growers' contentions that apples are safe to eat.

Several Utah apple growers said Friday they believe the nation's apple producers may sue the NRDC to make them prove their contentions, which, the apple growers say, are false.

Vic Saunders, vice president for communications for the Utah Farm Bureau, said Alar "is used by some growers, but certainly not all, to make apples stay on the trees longer, make them harder and crispier and to help them grow larger."

He said the wide use of chemicals in agriculture has come about since World War II in response to public demand for more, cheaper and better-looking fruits and vegetables.

"Chemical pesticides and herbicides not only increase production but produce fruits and vegetables without worm holes in them and without blemishes. That is what the public wants. They don't want apples with holes in them or with brown spots on the skin."

Saunders said the organic agriculture of the 1920s and 1930s was possible only because there were so many farmers in America then. "They could feed the country without the huge yields that are common today. But now, only 2 percent or less of America's population farms. They feed themselves and 80 or more other people.

"That kind of production would not be possible without chemical fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides and growth stimulants. If America wants organic food, they will have to pay the price of much more labor-intensive farming and much smaller yields."

Even with the use of a variety of chemicals on America's farms, many government agencies keep watch on the effects of all these chemicals, Saunders said.

"And the Environmental Protection Agency, the Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture all say there is no imminent hazard posed to children by the consumption of apples."

One of Utah's major apple growers, Bill Ferguson of Royal Apple Sales Inc., Santaquin, Utah County, charged many innocent farm families are being hurt by the confusion and bad publicity caused by the NRDC report.

"Our food supply is safe. Family farmers are being hurt by the public's misplaced trust in the anti-chemical movement. Apple growers are bearing the brunt of the problem now, but all farmers will suffer if current misconceptions are not straightened out quickly."