Daminozide (trade name Alar, Kylar, B-NINE, DMASA, SADH, B 995, and others) is a plant growth regulator, a chemical sprayed on fruit to regulate their growth, make their harvest easier, and enhance their color. It was primarily used on apples, and was registered with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) from 1963 to 1989 — when it was voluntarily withdrawn by the manufacturer in response to public fears over a controversial study which found that Alar residue could produce tumors in mice.
It has been produced in the U.S. by the Uniroyal Chemical Company, Inc, (now integrated into the Chemtura Corporation) which registered daminozide (or Alar) for use on fruits intended for human consumption in 1963. In addition to apples and ornamentals, it was also registered for use on cherries, peaches, pears, Concord grapes, tomato transplants and peanut vines. On fruit trees, daminozide affected flow-bud initiation, fruit-set maturity, fruit firmness and coloring, preharvest drop and market quality of fruit at harvest and during storage.
In 1986, concern developed in the U.S. public over the use of Alar on apples, over fears that the residues of the chemical detected in apple juice and applesauce might harm people. The outcry led some manufacturers and supermarket chains to announce they would not accept Alar-treated apples.
This followed years of background:
In 1989, following the CBS broadcast, the United States Environmental Protection Agency decided to ban Alar on the grounds that "long-term exposure" posed "unacceptable risks to public health." Note, however, that before the EPA's preliminary decision to ban all food uses of Alar went into effect, Uniroyal, the sole manufacturer of Alar, agreed in June 1989 to halt voluntarily all domestic sales of Alar for food uses.
While Alar has been verified as a human carcinogen, the amount necessary for it to be dangerous may well be extremely high. The lab tests that prompted the scare required an amount of Alar equal to over 5,000 gallons (20,000 L) of apple juice per day. Consumers Union ran its own studies and estimated the human lifetime cancer risk to be 5 per million, as compared to the previously-reported figure of 50 cases per million.
Elizabeth Whelan and her organization, the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH) worked to establish a narrative of the Alar episode as a scare. The ACSH claimed that Alar and its breakdown product UDMH had not been shown to be carcinogenic. Whelan's campaign was so effective that today, Alar scare is shorthand among news media and food industry professionals for an irrational, emotional public scare based on propaganda rather than facts.
The Alar scare also prompted the introduction of food libel laws in 13 states.