Report Debunks Health Scares; Blames PR Firm

July 7, 2008 - 8:02 PM

( - Public policy and think tank analysts say money was the motivating factor behind several health alerts released over the past few years that condemned the use of a wide range of products, from pesticides to swordfish.

Steven J. Milloy -- publisher of and an adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute - Thursday released the contents of a report seeking to expose what he referred to as "health scare campaigns," directed by Fenton Communications, a Washington DC-based public relations firm.

Among those contributing to the report debunking the scare campaigns were Dr. Henry Miller, an academic researcher, author, and fellow with the Hoover Institution, Elizabeth Whelan, the president and co-founder of the American Council on Science and Health, and John Carlisle, a member of the National Center for Public Policy Research.

Milloy could not be reached for comment, but his report, posted on the Internet, accuses Fenton Communications of playing a "key role in a growing number of health scare campaigns" by combining "junk science with a hidden agenda, to scare consumers away from safe products, supposedly all in the name of protecting public health and the environment."

The public relations firm, the report charges, once worked on behalf of the Natural Resources Defense Council to "convince" CBS's 60 Minutes to produce a story in 1989 detailing the cancer risks associated with alar, a growth chemical used on apples.

"But the report's science was faulty and not reviewed by independent experts before its release. Though [the report] lacked scientific merit, the campaign actually succeeded. It caused hundreds of millions of dollars in losses, ruined some apple farmers and resulted in the manufacturer's voluntary withdrawal of the product from use," Milloy's document reads.

The health risks of alar were eventually proven incorrect, Milloy's report states, but the "damage" had already been done. The reasons for the negative reports on alar became evident, his report continued, when David Fenton - of Fenton Communications - reportedly said during an interview, "The PR campaign was designed so that revenue would flow back to NRDC from the public."

Elliot Negin with NRDC declined comment; Mark Epstein of Fenton Communications faxed a statement requesting all questions be directed to clients.

"We are proud of our work and our client's work protecting public health, the environment, and the public interest," Epstein's statement read. "We have been fortunate to work with many of the leading nonprofit organizations in this nation and around the world. It is their findings that were attacked this morning."

Fenton Communications worked again on behalf of NRDC to promote the idea that "swordfish were an endangered species," the Milloy report states. During that campaign, 78 Washington DC area restaurants supposedly banned swordfish, though Milloy claimed that number was overstated. Milloy added that the premise of the ban was wrong anyway; the federal government, he said, never declared swordfish an endangered species.

Still, NRDC claimed "victory," the report continued, and although it cancelled an attempted boycott, NRDC caused "millions of dollars in damages to the industry and ruined fisherman victims ... in the wake."

According to Milloy's report, other "scare campaigns" conducted by Fenton Communications involved breast implants, sperm production, and bovine growth hormones.