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Background Materials: Fact Sheets

Cite sources when possible and make sure you get all facts vetted by an expert. Include contact name and information on the bottom for reporters to speak with the expert(s).

Alar: quick facts on a highly scientific issue, designed as part of a series on toxic substances.

Organic food standards: helps explain the draw-backs of a confusing issue.

Shrimp, turtles and trade: a fact sheet giving reporters easily-accessible facts for writing stories.

Toxic Substance Summary:
Alar (Daminozide dimethylamino)

The Facts

  • Prior to June 1989, Alar was used in the United States as a plant growth regulator on food crops, and particularly on apples, to promote color, uniform fruit ripening and to extend storage life of fruit.
  • A report by the Natural Resources Defense Council in 1989 found that children were at risk from pesticides in food and that Alar presented the greatest risk to preschoolers.
  • In March 1989, Consumers Union issued a report indicating that 55% of the raw apples and three-fourths of the apple juice they tested contained Alar.
  • All uses of Alar on food crops were voluntarily canceled worldwide by the manufacturer, Uniroyal Chemical Co., Inc., in November, 1989. It is currently registered only for use on ornamental and bedding plants. (EXTOXNET Pesticide Information Profile, June 1996)
  • In January 1991, the Environmental Protection Agency completed a third peer review of Alar and Unsymmetrical Dimethyl Hydrazine (UDMH), a byproduct of Alar, and classified both products as probable human carcinogens}.
  • UDMH is a breakdown product of Alar, formed in the human body after eating Alar-treated food, when Alar-treated food is cooked or heated, or over time as Alar degrades.
  • Alar is a colorless to white, stable crystalline solid. It is usually provided as a soluble powder.

Prior to 1989, eating fruits, juices, and other foods that were treated with Alar.

Coming into contact with the chemical on farms, orchards and manufacturing plants.

Heath Effects


Listed as a probable human carcinogen by the EPA and the U.S. National Toxicology Program.

Effects observed at higher doses included atrophy of ovaries and enlargement of the liver bile duct (hyperplasia).
-(EXTOXNET Pesticide Information Profile, June 1996)


The first studies linking Alar to tumors in animals appeared in the 1970s.
-(Natural Resources Defense Council)

Some animal studies have identified the liver and lungs as target organs.
-(EXTOXNET Pesticide Information Profile, June 1996)

Food Irradiation Summary Sheet

What are Irradiated Foods?

The exposure of food products to radiation energy such as X-rays, electron beams and gamma rays is used as a means of preservation. The high-energy, invisible lightwaves are used to cause physical and chemical changes in the food increasing the product's shelf life.
- National Food Safety Database, Biotechnology and Food

The Facts

Irradiation is expensive, adding as much as five cents per pound to the cost of ground beef according to USDA estimates.

Not all microorganisms, such as the bacteria that causes botulism, toxins and viruses, are destroyed as a result of irradiation.
- National Food Safety Database, Biotechnology and Food

Foods treated with irradiation may experience nutrient loss. Vitamins A, E, C, K Thiamin (B-1) are very sensitive to radiation.
- National Food Safety Database, Biotechnology and Food

Consumer Information

According to a 1996 poll, 92% of the population said they wanted to know if the food they were purchasing was treated by irradiation.
-Center for Science in the Public Interest Report

Since 1986 food manufacturers have been required by the FDA to label all irradiated foods with a logo, however H.R. 2469, the Food and Nutrition Information Reform Act would remove the labeling mandate. This would allow consumers to unknowingly purchase irradiated food products.
-Center for Science in the Public Interest Report

The present labeling mandates on irradiated foods apply to the sale of food on the packing/wholesale and retail levels. Without sufficient labeling, food can undergo the irradiation process more than once. Currently, wholesale irradiated foods caution the market with "do not irradiate again."
-National Food Safety Database, Biotechnology and Food


Children and animals fed newly irradiated food demonstrated polyploidy, a condition in which cells contain more than their normal set of chromosomes.
-Food Irradiation: What are the hazards?, Vanguard Sciences

When irradiated chicken was fed to mice during one of 12 USDA studies, the specimens "showed an increase in testicular tumors, lesions including cancer, kidney disease, and reduced life-spans". -Food Irradiation: What are the hazards?, Vanguard Sciences

The fungus-generated carcinogens, Alfatoxins, were found in elevated levels in irradiated foods in several studies. Alfatoxins are 1,000 times more carcinogenic than some pesticides that irradiation is meant to replace.
-Food Irradiation: What are the hazards?, Vanguard Sciences

Microorganisms such as bacteria and viruses may develop a resistance to radiation, leading to the development of new strains of organisms.
-Food Irradiation: What are the hazards?, Vanguard Sciences

More than one preservation technique may be used before foods ever reach the consumer. For example, fruits may be irradiated to extend their shelf-life before being canned. This double dose will further deplete the nutritional value of the food.
-Food Irradiation: What are the hazards?, Vanguard Sciences

Meats contaminated with bacteria such as botulism may appear healthy. When the irradiation process kills the spoiling bacteria (which normally warn the consumer of contamination) the harmful bacteria continue to thrive.
-Food Irradiation: What are the hazards?, Vanguard Sciences

Endangered Sea Turtles

In the course of their migrations, sea turtles cross the national boundaries of many countries, as well as international waters. Only international cooperation will result in their protection.

All but one of the 8 species of sea turtles are listed on the U.S. Endangered Species List and the International Union for the Conservation of Natural Resources and Nature. All species are protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

The current US import ban applies to the six sea turtle species that inhabit US waters: Kemp's ridley, olive ridley, leatherback, loggerhead, green, and hawksbill sea turtles.

Turtles become snared in the nets of shrimp boats and other fishing vessels. This is by far the largest human_caused source of sea turtle mortality . It is estimated that 155,000 sea turtles drown in shrimp nets every year, despite the existence of cheap, proven technologies which would prevent this from happening.

The most endangered sea turtle is the Kemp's ridley. There are only 500_1000 nesting females left in the world. The total worldwide population of adult ridleys Ñ Kemp's and olive Ñ is estimated at only 3,000.

Turtle Excluder Devices (TEDs)

TEDs are inexpensive trap doors placed in shrimp nets, which allow air_breathing sea turtles to escape without drowning.

TEDs cost between $50_400 per net, averaging only $175 each. The US currently has programs in place to provide TEDs free of charge in many cases.

TEDs also reduce the incidental capture of fish and other marine organisms Ñ "bycatch" Ñ by up to 60%. For every pound of shrimp harvested, ten pounds of bycatch is thrown overboard, mostly dead. TEDs mean fishers also spend less time picking shrimp from the catch, another economic benefit.

Properly installed TEDs exclude about 97 percent of the sea turtles from shrimp trawl nets while losing only about 1-3 percent of the shrimp. The use of TEDs is recognized by countless scientists and the National Academy of Sciences as the single most important action necessary for sea turtle recovery.

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