Food Safety | Archives | Aggie Horticulture
Food Safety

1. Q. With all of the talk and public hysteria about "safe" food, rat-killing pesticides and poisoned food, I was surprised to see your column about "Natural Versus Organic Foods". Did you get a lot of "hate" mail?

A. Not one single letter or telephone call -- obviously unbiased truth generates no complaints. In this age of mass media sensationalism and half-truths, Extension professionals must present the facts, even with the risk of condemnation. Half-cocked, sensational attacks on commercial food production such as the Alar apple fiasco can and will destroy America's agricultural producers and will dearly cost the public in the long run. The public rarely is aware of the hysteria retraction, i.e., when the scare mongers find out that they were wrong. A good example is the cyclamate horror story. Did you know that when the U.S. Dept. of HEW pulled the rug on cyclamates about 20 years ago because it was believed to cause cancer in rats, the California canning industry found itself unable to sell over 5 million cases of canned fruit that was packed with the low calorie sweetener?

Several years later the U.S. Court of Claims recommended that the now defunct California Canner & Growers Coop., a major producer of cyclamate canned fruits, be awarded $6.39 million in damages to settle a claim against the Federal Government filed years before. This money was never paid to the company, nor to hundreds of growers who were devastated by this unnecessary attack on the artificial sweetener.

Ultimately, the damage to the entire food industry was estimated in excess of $100 million and food companies were faced with the dilemma and added cost of disposing of this perfectly wholesome food. One boat load of cyclamate products destined for people starving in Bangladesh was commanded to turn about and return to the U.S. so that the food product could be dumped.

FDA is soon expected to approve the use of cyclamates in food. After dozens of long-term cancer studies, more than 70 experiments looking for genetic damage, and hundreds of other toxicological studies, data has shown that the product is, in fact, safe. The matter was taken out of the hands of scientists and handled by attorneys. "It is just politics", a retired researcher at the National Cancer Institute said. "Once the decision was made, no one wanted to reverse it. It would have meant a loss of face."


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