Cancer Survivor Faces Possible Prison for Selling Apricot Seeds

By | July 7, 2008 | 8:21pm EDT

( - Federal jurors in Brooklyn, N.Y., must decide the fate of Jason Vale, a cancer survivor, former arm wrestling world champion and self-described entrepreneur, who is on trial for allegedly violating a government order that he stop promoting the use of apricot seeds as a cure for cancer.

Closing arguments in the case were held Thursday with Vale serving as his own attorney and accusing the government of setting him up. But Vale's alleged defiance of the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) consent decree, issued in 2000, could land him with a 20-year prison sentence. The FDA claims the Apricot pits, more than 100,000 of which federal agents reportedly seized in a raid on Vale's basement, have no therapeutic value.

Vale was diagnosed with terminal cancer in 1986 and suffered from the disease for eight years, enduring chemotherapy, radiation treatments and an operation to remove a tumor. But in 1994, Vale saw a video touting apricot seeds as a cure for cancer and began taking the seeds, which release organic cyanide into the system. Vale claims his use of the seeds along with his faith in God eliminated the tumor and saved his life.

"I have watched first-hand as apricot seed consumption has helped to shrink tumors in almost every cancer patient [with whom] I've dealt," said Vale. "I have also followed horror stories from many of those using highly toxic chemo and radiation therapies."

Vale's legal troubles began when he started selling a concentrated form of the vitamin found in apricot seeds, known as laetrile or amygdalin, to other cancer patients over the Internet.

The FDA is currently refusing comment on this matter, but according to a warning letter sent to Vale in 1998, the agency stated that it considered laetrile to be a "new drug," and as such, was not approved for sale or importation. The FDA obtained an injunction in November 2000, forbidding Vale and his company, Christian Brothers Contracting Corporation, from selling or promoting the use of laetrile as a cancer treatment.

Following undercover investigations by the FDA, the agency alleged that Vale had continued to sell and promote laetrile in violation of the consent decree and recommended in March 2002 that Vale be prosecuted for criminal contempt.

Eliezer Ben-Joseph, a doctor of naturopathy and host of the Natural Solutions talk radio show in El Paso, Texas, describes the government's efforts as "ludicrous."

"It's a vindictive prosecution," said Ben-Joseph. "We're talking about apricots , and yet the government is so drastically opposed to having this information out."

The U.S. government maintains that because Vale made therapeutic claims about his laetrile products, the apricot seeds should be treated as drugs and therefore require FDA approval before they could be sold or distributed within the United States. Furthermore, the government maintains that laetrile has no medicinal benefits. A National Cancer Institute report obtained by concluded that, "laetrile has shown little anti-cancer activity in animal studies and no anti-cancer activity in human clinical trials."

Ben-Joseph doubted the credibility of those clinical trials, and noted that, "several concerns have been expressed about the way the study was conducted." He pointed out that some recently developed cancer treatments use artificial cyanide, which is very similar to the organic cyanide that laetrile emits.

"It's not a cure; there is no cure for cancer, but there are things that we can do that augment how metabolism works," he noted. "These are chemicals that the body would use to detoxify or get rid of cancer."

Regardless of their efficacy, Ben-Joseph argues, apricot seeds are no more dangerous than other natural remedies, and he believes they should be legal for use as a cancer treatment.

Vale is not alone in touting laetrile as a cure; Donald Factor, the son of cosmetic tycoon Max Factor, sought natural cancer treatment in Mexico 17 years ago. After being treated with laetrile and other natural remedies, Factor's cancer disappeared, and he is still alive today.

And Vale claims that his apricot seed products have helped over 30,000 cancer patients, many of whose personal testaments are documented on Vale's website.

Ben-Joseph considers Vale's case a "freedom issue" and calls the government's prosecution an inappropriate use of the judicial system.

"To make a law that says that the public cannot eat an apricot pit, because they think it might keep people from going to regular cancer therapy, I think is a ludicrous jump in jurisdiction," he said.

Vale also faced legal troubles in 1998 when America Online sued him for allegedly sending over 20 million "spam" e-mail messages to its subscribers. A federal judge awarded AOL $631,585 in damages. Vale and his attorneys could not be reached for comment regarding the AOL case.

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