Hot Air and Cat Hype

Posted by Pete Shanks December 3, 2009
Biopolitical Times

Allerca Lifestyle Pets, the company which has been claiming for years that it was producing hypoallergenic cats, is getting out of the business. There is, however, more than a little doubt that it was ever really in the business in the first place.

The company's founder, Simon Brodie, has been accused of passing off Savannah cats he bought from a breeder as proprietary "Ashera" hypoallergenic cats. Several websites list other complaints, calling Allerca "a scam," a "fraud" and "a total rip-off."

Allerca, and various related companies such as ForeverPet and Geneticas Life Sciences, were not genetically modifying animals. Brodie once offered to invest $2.5 million in Transgenic Pets, which did intend to modify cats, but "when it came time for him to contribute his money, it turned out he didn't have any." What Brodie wanted, it seems, was the shtick -- enough scientific terminology to sound impressively informed.

All this may be a surprise, and should be an embarrassment, to Time magazine, which credited the company with one of the "Best Inventions 2006" for its alleged ability to select cats that do not express a particular protein to which many people are allergic. And to the New York Times, which ran a puff piece about it. As did ABC, NBC, CBS and many other purveyors of infotainment under the guise of news.

There were, even then, honorable exceptions. The San Diego Union-Tribune investigated Brodie in 2006, and discovered that he was a convicted criminal who had defaulted on loans, that Allerca had been evicted for non-payment of rent, and various other unsavory details. So did John Mattes of San Diego's Fox 6 News, who described Brodie as "a carnival barker." And The Scientist (subscription required) has been on top of the real story all along.

Cloned or genetically modified pets are of course sometimes real. The harm they do to animals is definitely no laughing matter. Nor is the damage that credulous reporters do in passing on hucksters' myths. The worst possible result would be that people wrote off genuine abuses as mere frauds -- and the best antidote to that is proper journalism.

Brodie's murky past is listed in detail here. It includes a jail term in England for false accounting concerned with Cloudhoppers, a balloon-flight company. He seems to have moved on to selling $19,000 skis under the name Carradan. Hot air and a slippery slope: You couldn't make this up.

Previously on Biopolitical Times: