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Commentary : The Apple Scare: Is There No One Who Can Be Trusted as an Expert?

<i> Leslie Runzler is a free-lance writer in Dana Point. </i>

Like most parents, I spend a lot of time doing what most parents do--worrying. And there’s plenty of fodder for that--kidnapings, car accidents, snipers in the schoolyard; the list is endless.

And when I’m not worrying about things I can’t always control, I worry about things I can--will all the things I do out of love someday backfire on me?

Will my daughters both end up hating me and telling “my mom” jokes on the Carson show?

Today, parents have a lot to be thankful for, but there’s a lot to put up with as well. So I’ve developed a pretty thick hide whenever I hear yet another health warning.

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Dryer softening sheets may cause jammies to go up in flames? No problem--I won’t use them. Infants can choke on Barbie shoes? Fine--Barbie and her 9 sisters can go barefoot. Whoops, that indoor playhouse might just snap, causing shards of plastic to whip around my family room? Well, another trip back to returns and exchanges.

But through all these worries and doubts, I’ve always been able to trust one thing--the apple. The perfect fruit for every mom--easy to choose, easy to store and easy for a kid to eat. What’s more, it is the only fruit my 6-year-old has ever asked for. It even has folklore attached to it: “an apple a day” and all that. In short, the one thing--as a parent--I could depend on. But no more.

Now I’m told that there’s a 4% chance my daughter is already on the road to having cancer because she has regularly eaten apples and apple products since she was in diapers. Now, I would take those odds any day, on just about anything--except my children.

But what really fries me is the way in which I heard this news, leaving me unsure as to whether I should clean out my fruit bin, dump my apple juice and rush my daughter in for a checkup.

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First, the National Resource Defense Council--a group unknown to me--reports the cancer warning. The Environmental Protection Agency and the apple growers respond by saying “no way--you guys have bad data.” Next, Meryl Streep is on TV, asking me all kinds of scary questions about fruits, vegetables and “the government.”

So whom do I believe: a group I’ve never heard of, that Oscar-winning actress and eminent nutrition expert, or a federal agency known for its poor management and lack of credibility? Do I believe the apple growers’ PR guy? Sure, just like I believed Beechnut when the label read “no sugar added.”

Now, school districts throughout Orange County and in New York and Los Angeles are taking apples off their menus. School administrators are not known for rash behavior, so I’ve got more cause for concern.

If the schools believe the warnings, shouldn’t I? Very simply, I don’t know. What’s next? Carrots cause night-blindness? Rutabagas responsible for inner-ear infections? Kiwis lead to jock itch?

Isn’t there anyone who can provide us with accurate information on this issue? Why must we put up with repeatedly being scared by one agency, then soothed by another? Is there no one we can trust to be the expert--the final authority --on something as simple as an apple, and whether it’s good for my child? Why is everyone so confused, and con- fusing?

My daughter hears a lot about taking responsibility these days; to tell the truth, to clean up her messes and that when she goes out in the world, she can’t expect to get by on excuses. It’s sound, good advice. Those who have caused this ridiculous, unnecessary series of events should take that advice to heart.


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