Fifty-one years ago the FDA destroyed Thanksgiving Day with this pronouncement.
The Food and Drug Administration today urged that no further sales be made of cranberries and cranberry products produced in Washington and Oregon in 1958 and 1959 because of their possible contamination by a chemical weed killer, aminotriazole, which causes cancer in the thyroids of rats when it is contained in their diet, until the cranberry industry has submitted a workable plan to separate the contaminated berries from those that are not contaminated.
Those words mark the beginning of America’s slide from fierce independence into into nanny state dependency. The government bureaurocracy decided to save us from our stupidity and protect us from ourselves. America had saved the world from the enemies of freedom but our government learned the wrong lessons from wartime command and control. The government thought that it was responsible for world peace- and not my father’s generation of Americans who won the battles. Now they believed that they knew what was best for us to eat. We were naive in a lot of ways in the 50’s and we still trusted the government. When the FDA announced that cranberries were unsafe in the fall of 1959, America stopped buying cranberries. Virtually everybody shunned the healthy holiday fruit decimating the cranberry industry and dampening the Thanksgiving spirit.
From that first nanny state skirmish, we learned the wrong lessons. Instead of recognizing that the government had overstepped it’s roll and telling it to back off, Americans started to fear the strange new world of chemicals and look to the government for answers. The government learned to be more subtle and scare us slowly. It was the first of many health scares created from the discovery that huge doses of almost any substance can cause cancer in rats. The FDA’s motto might as well be “Better safe than sorry, just don’t eat anything.” because there doesn’t seem to be a substance that can’t cause cancer if you consume enough of it. This was the beginning of pesicideophobia which still impacts us today and our growing dependence on the government to tell us what is safe. The FDA used the Delaney Clause in the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act passed by Congress in 1958 to defend their pronouncement. The clause effectively equated mice to men by saying that if a substance in huge quantities could cause cancer in mice it was dangerous to man. Although this assertion has been thoroughly discredited, this logic is still used to support arguments that food items are unsafe to eat.
Even though these scares pass with no long term consequences, the public has been conditioned to believe that virtually every substance used in agriculture is unsafe. This hysteria causes them to spend money on ‘organic’ foods when the quantities of possibly dangerous chemicals are too minute to matter. The cranberry scare was a milestone for America. It marked the changing role of the government from servant to benevolent master. The well-meaning social programs of the 60’s masked the stripping of individual responsibility. It was the beginning of the ‘Government know best’ era which reaches full bloom in the current administration. As you enjoy your cranberry sauce at the dinner table today be sure to ask yourself who you trust more to make health decisions for your family, you or the bureaucracy in our capitol.