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The Forbidden Fruit

Jason Vale, a New Yorker and former arm-wrestling champion, used apricot seeds to cure his own cancer and then began selling them on the Internet, along with injectable laetrile. It does sound ludicrous at first, but the idea has been around since the fifties, and the medical profession has been ridiculing it and trying to stamp it out for just as long, without success. Apricot seeds contain a cyanide compound that targets cancer cells.

In Vale’s case, at least, the FDA sent him warning letters. He subsequently signed a consent decree saying he would stop, but he continued selling. He was tried for violating the consent decree, convicted, and sentenced to five years and three months. With time served and good behavior, it could be about half that.

According to one report of the sentencing, the judge said he didn’t believe the numerous letters he had received, in which satisfied customers of Vale’s claimed the apricot seeds had “saved them,” and that some letters were “over the top” in alleging an FDA–pharmaceutical industry conspiracy. Although Vale’s conviction was for violating the consent decree, his imprisonment is ultimately a result of selling apricot seeds as a cure for cancer. 

Upon Vale’s conviction in 2003, the FDA issued a press release, which quotes then FDA commissioner Mark McClellan: “The FDA takes seriously its responsibility to protect patients from unproven products being peddled on the internet by modern day snake oil salesmen such as the defendant in this case. There is no scientific evidence that Laetrile offers anything but false hope to cancer patients.” The press release also quotes prosecuting U.S. attorney Roslynn Mauskopf: “This office will not tolerate any disregard for the lawful orders of this Court. Nor will it tolerate fraud, especially when it foists dangerous products on a vulnerable public.”

These sanctimonious, Soviet-style pronouncements merely repeat the conventional line about laetrile. Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC) in New York, the nation’s largest cancer treatment facility, has claimed for decades (and still claims, on its web site) that “research has demonstrated only the absence of beneficial effect” for apricot seeds, otherwise known as amygdalin, laetrile, and vitamin B17.

However, Ralph Moss, Ph.D., who was assistant director of public affairs at MSKCC for five years in the mid-seventies, noticed during his time there that the institution’s claim about laetrile’s ineffectiveness contradicted what its own research showed. When he pointed this out, he was fired.

Moss went on to write books about alternative approaches to cancer and other health problems, pointing out the substantial representation of pharmaceutical, petrochemical, and automotive industry executives on the MSKCC boards of directors and managers. He cites this as the reason for MSKCC’s persistent lack of interest in natural remedies for cancer (which would conflict with the pharmaceutical industry’s agenda) or environmental causes of cancer (to which the petrochemical and automotive industries contribute significantly).