Just as winter was tightening, its icy grip, University of Alberta professor Larry Wang announced a new product to give us a leg-up in the perennial battle to stay warm — a specially formulated snack bar originally developed for the Canadian Armed Forces.
The fruit of more than $1 million in research and 16 years of animal and human studies, the Canadian Cold Buster bar combines allnatural ingredients in such a way that human tolerance to cold is significantly increased after ingestion of the bar, which speeds up the complex process by which body fat is converted to heat in humans.
Tests in Wang's laboratory established that eating a bar could give someone caught outdoors in cold weather twice the normal amount of time to seek proper shelter or help before the body's core temperature dropped to the level which would result in hypothermia.
The Cold Buster's debut in November 1991 was greeted by a flurry of media interest and early sales of the bar, marketed first in Western Canada, were even better than expected. The only problem that Wang and his partners in the Cold Buster venture faced was keeping up with demand when suddenly the bar was making headlines again.
But these were troubling.
On 3 January 1992, the Edmonton daily newspaper The Journal and The Canadian Press news service outlet in Edmonton received letters from a group calling itself the Animal Rights Militia. The letters claimed that ARM had injected liquid oven cleaner into Cold Buster bars on store shelves in Edmonton and Calgary.
In the letters (The Calgary Herald received a similar letter on 6 January) the activists said that they had poisoned the bars as a protest against the experimentation leading up to the development of the bar. It was their claim that Professor Wang had "slaughtered thousands of rats" in his research.
Wang, who was in China when the letters were received and the decision made to pull the Cold Buster bar from store shelves, was bewildered by the development. "Personally, I love animals," says the zoology professor. "I pride myself as someone who cares for the welfare of animals." Once an avid fisherman, he gave up fishing some years ago, unable to reconcile the "sport" with the unnecessary suffering it was causing.
On his return to Canada, Wang stressed that all his research has been scrutinized by the Canadian Council on Animal Care and by the granting agencies which have helped fund the research —these include the Natural Sciences and Engineering, Research Council, the Medical Research Council and the Alberta Heritage Foundation for Medical Research. "I've published 25 articles and several books [on cold physiology ology and hibernation studies] and not once was I challenged. It's a free country; there are many channels and avenues in which to challenge a researcher. Why do [those calling themselves ARM] want to hold the public as hostage. It's a very inconsiderate act."
At a news conference in mid-January, Wang set before the assembled reporters two stacks of research reprints summarizing all the research done in his laboratory in the past dozen years. One pile represented work done with animal subjects; the other, research using human volunteers. "Show me anything in there that we have done to rats that we haven't done to humans," was his challenge.
Wang also made it clear, that the Cold Buster was not developed with an eye for personal monetary gain. "Four years ago when I was given the right to commercialize this product by the Department of National Defence, I assigned all my rights to the University for $1 — I still have the cheque."
The current arrangement, which sees the University earn a royalty on each bar sold, was arrived at after the University, unable to strike a satisfactory commercialization deal, put the opportunity to take the Cold Buster into the marketplace back into Wang's hands.
After an expensive recall and safety inspection (the exact cost is yet to be determined, but "it will definitely hurt," says Wang) the bars are now back on the market in Western Canada and in parts of Ontario. No bars other than those which accompanied the letters to the media outlets were found to have been tampered with, and a communication from ARM has admitted that poisoning of bars on store shelves did not take place.
Wang believes that, in the short term, Cold Buster sales will undoubtedly be adversely affected by ARM's scare tactics. He is hopeful that "in the longer term we could be benefitted by the greater product awareness that has resulted."
Published Spring 1992.