In early 1989, the NRDC released a report on Alar, a chemical used to harvest apples. The report estimated that Alar caused cancer and children were at greater risk.
This report was based on a mathematical model with several assumptions that turned out to be flawed. The data set was limited to mice exposed to amounts of Alar far beyond what humans could plausibly consume. Several research reviews over the past 16 years had previously concluded that Alar was safe at the level of current human consumption.
The news show 60 Minutes picked up on the NRDC report, showing apples superimposed with skulls and dying children in cancer wards. The story went viral and was all over the media.
Several academic experts and research groups condemned the NRDC report, but they were ignored in favor of celebrity actress Meryl Streep giving a speech on the dangers of pesticides.
Apple sales plummeted. The US government had to spend millions to prevent the apple industry from collapsing under its over 100 million dollar loss.
Within a few months, before further testing could be carried out, Alar’s manufacturer went out of business, supermarkets boycotted Alar containing products and schools took apples out of their cafeterias.
This historic event has become known as ‘The Alar Scare’. There’s a lesson to be learned here.
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