Before I rant, let me backtrack.
First, there was this:
When The Dr. Oz Show first heard reports of arsenic in apple juice, we launched an extensive investigation. Using an independent lab for sophisticated, state-of-the-art testing, we uncovered that some of the best-known brands of apple juice contain arsenic. Learn what you need to know to protect your family.
Apple juice made from apple concentrate is not just popular in juice boxes. Often used instead of refined sugar, apple juice is used to sweeten candy, cereals, snack bars and more. Despite its ubiquity in our country’s kitchens, most apple juice is not all-American. In just one type of juice, there can be apple concentrate from up to seven countries. Although arsenic has been banned in the US for decades, it’s not always regulated in other countries where it may be in the water supply or used in pesticides contaminating the juice you’re giving to your children.
The EPA has a limit on arsenic in drinking water – the level allowed is 10 parts per billion. Currently, there is no limit on arsenic in apple juice. The Dr. Oz Show tested three dozen samples from five different brands of apple juice across three different American cities, and compared the levels of arsenic to the standard for water.
Of these, 10 samples came back higher than the arsenic limit allowed in drinking water.
Note: Lab results standard deviation is +/- 20%
- Minute Maid Apple Juice
- Lowest Sample for Arsenic: 2 parts per billion
- Highest Sample for Arsenic: 3 parts per billion
- Apple and Eve Apple Juice
- Lowest Sample for Arsenic: 3 parts per billion
- Highest Sample for Arsenic: 11 parts per billion
- Lowest Sample for Arsenic: 4 parts per billion
- Highest Sample for Arsenic: 16 parts per billion
- Juicy Juice
- Lowest Sample for Arsenic: 2 parts per billion
- Highest Sample for Arsenic: 22 parts per billion
- Lowest Sample for Arsenic: 3 parts per billion
- Highest Sample for Arsenic: 36 parts per billion
Can’t watch the video? Read on:
In a spirited showdown on “Good Morning America ” today, ABC News Health and Medical Editor Dr. Richard Besser confronted Dr. Mehmet Oz on what he called “extremely irresponsible” statements made on “The Dr. Oz Show” show Wednesday concerning arsenic in apple juice.
“Mehmet, I’m very upset about this, I think that this was extremely irresponsible,” Besser said. “It reminds me of yelling fire in a movie theater.”
“I’m not fear-mongering,” Oz fired back. “We did our homework on this risk.”
Oz’s appearance on ‘GMA’ is the latest development in a story that likely has many parents on edge about whether to continue serving apple juice to their children.
Oz and the show’s producers drew criticism for Wednesday’s episode of the “Dr. Oz Show,” which focused on the dangers of trace levels of arsenic present in many popular brands of apple juice. Juice manufacturers, government regulators and scientists said the results of what the program called its “extensive national investigation” were misleading and needlessly frightening to consumers.
According to the “Dr. Oz Show,” a laboratory tested “three dozen samples from five different brands of apple juice across three American cities” and compared the levels of arsenic to the limits of arsenic for drinking water set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). They found 10 samples of juice with arsenic levels higher than the limits for water.
In a statement, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said, “There is no evidence of any public health risk from drinking these juices.”
The FDA sent a letter to the Oz show Sept. 9, five days before the show was to air, which warned that airing the show would be “irresponsible” and “misleading” because the testing ignored that there are two forms of arsenic: organic and inorganic. Organic is generally thought not to be harmful to health, whereas inorganic is.
The FDA also conducted its own tests of the apple juice investigated by the “Dr. Oz Show.” In some of the very same lots of juice tested for the show, the FDA reported finding very low levels of inorganic arsenic; 6 parts per billion at most, even lower than the 10 parts per billion recommended by the EPA as a safe level for drinking water.
Oz acknowledged that “no children are dying from acute lethal arsenic poisoning,” stating instead that his concerns were about the long-term effect of arsenic exposure.
Still, Besser said Oz was implying to parents that drinking apple juice poses a risk to kids’ health.
“You have informed parents they are poisoning their children,” he said, a charge that Oz denied.
“We just want to have the conversation, and we’ve been trying to make this conversation happen,” Oz said.
He also added, “I would not take apple juice out of my kids’ containers now.”
…so, let’s talk.
First and foremost, I can’t – and refuse – to debate numbers on this. I’m sure I could order my own tests (y’know, with all my money to spare and whatnot) and find no arsenic in any sample of apple juice. People need to understand what “parts per billion” means – “In science and engineering, the parts-per notation is a set of pseudo units to describe small values of miscellaneous dimensionless quantities, e.g. mole fraction or mass fraction. Since these fractions are quantity-per-quantity measures, they are pure numbers with no associated units of measurement. ” – and the fact that the FDA does, in fact, allow harmful chemicals in our food supply under the guise of “well, it’s in this certain item in tiny, indiscriminate amounts, so it’s okay to us” is non-debateable. I wrote about it with trans-fat, I wrote abut it with rat feces in peanut butter… I’m writing about it now with apple juice.
Arsenic, as noted above, has been banned for use in the United States, but is not banned in other countries from where we import apple concentrate, and (if I’m not mistaken) our imports are not required* to meet our standards for food. (To me, this is all the more reason to shoot for eating locally, but I digress.) It’s also – again, as noted above – in the water supply… the same water supply that is used to dilute the apple juice concentrate. Parts per notation doesn’t mean that there will only be less than 10 parts per billion (the “acceptable level” for my example) in each serving of the juice. It means that, in some servings, you’ll only get 2 parts per billion and in others, you may find 18 parts per billion. No matter what lab does the testing, you’ll still get the same variations. This is why so many of the companies are harping on this “same batch” mess – sure, it could’ve been the same batch, but you wouldn’t have had the same sample. (One of you brilliant scienc-y chicks help me out, here – depending upon whether arsenic sinks or floats, it’d be a matter of pulling your sample from the top or bottom of the batch, no? I’ll remove this once one of you answers.)
Did Dr. Oz jump the gun? Yes and no – I think he could’ve done due diligence and ordered more testing, but the fact remains that there are far too many variables at play, here, and the public needs to be aware of them all in order to make appropriate decisions for their families. I’m glad he brought it up and I hope he chooses to air the segment in question.
This leads me to my next point… which is really what burns my toast: this idea of “fear-mongering.”
What is fear-mongering? “Fear mongering (or scaremongering) is the use of fear to influence the opinions and actions of others towards some specific end. The feared object or subject is sometimes exaggerated, and the pattern of fear mongering is usually one of repetition, in order to continuously reinforce the intended effects of this tactic, sometimes in the form of a vicious circle.”
Here’s what I don’t get – educating the public about what’s going on with our food supply is tantamount to fearmongering? I don’t have the right to know that companies are putting rocket fuel and known cancer-causing agents and known neurotoxins and known non-food substances in my food? I don’t have the right to make educated decisions?
It’s a new day in America when the standard for whether or not I should buy something for my child boils down to whether or not it will instantly kill you. News flash: the FDA only monitors whether something is “generally regarded as safe,” not whether extended exposure over time will kill you or leave you brain dead. It’s a new day when labeling someone a “fearmongerer” is used to discredit them and cover up the fact that our food supply, as currently maintained in processed food, is nowhere near as “pure” as we think it is. I read the statements from the juice companies that they wrote in response to The Dr. Oz Show. No one wanted to explain anything about arsenic and what they’re doing to keep as much of it out of our supply as possible. They all wanted to explain why the amount that’s in there is “okay.” They wanted to shift the focus off of them – the focus that Dr. Oz put on them in the first place – and put it onto his show. And don’t get me wrong – we’re talking about our food supply, here. Both sides deserve scrutiny. But I’ve seen two separate interviews where Oz gracefully handled the situation and accepted criticisms. I can’t say the same for the other side. (It also should not be surprising to anyone anywhere that when the juice companies had their juices tested, they didn’t find the same results.)
If I were an apple juice drinker, what would I do? I’d avoid apple juices that come from concentrate, for starters. I’d do my best to try to get my apple juices from local places – think farmer’s market, local health food store, your own blender. Apple juice and apple juice concentrate are often used as sweeteners in other foods and drinks, so I’d keep my eyes peeled for that on labels, but I’d simply make that conversion. I’d also file this situation away in my memory, and keep it in mind when you pick up anything in a package at the grocery. I’m pretty sure your body will thank you for it.
*They are, but this is rarely enforced and little more than 5% of all imports are checked to ensure our standards are met, lax though they may be. An unenforced law is, functionally, no law at all. Everyone monitors their speed in a speed trap, but when the police are away…