Home Health News Dr. Oz, Apple Juice, Arsenic and “Fear-Mongering”

Dr. Oz, Apple Juice, Arsenic and “Fear-Mongering”

by Erika Nicole Kendall

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
  • Mott’s
    • 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
  • Gerber
    • Lowest Sample for Arsenic: 3 parts per billion
    • Highest Sample for Arsenic: 36 parts per billion

Click here to read the full results of Dr. Oz’s independent study. [source]

Then, this:

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…

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JoAnna September 20, 2011 - 10:12 AM

Like you said, drink locally pressed apple juice. Here in Michigan, we’re just coming into our apple season. I love, LOVE fresh apple cider and haven’t had branded apple juice (from concentrate) in years. If snacking, I would rather eat an apple (Honeycrisp, Gala, Granny Smith, Empire, etc) than drink a glass of juice.

Too much juice (and other sugar laden drinks)and not enough water is what is wrong with our children’s health anyway.

Tonja September 20, 2011 - 10:22 AM

Thanks so much for addressing this issue. I have been following it in the news for a couple of days and am glad Dr. Oz is forcing people to talk about this. The more we are educated as consumers, the better off we will be. What is so wrong with stating the facts and letting us make our own choices? It seems like the powers that be would rather we just walk around blindly, taking what they give us and giving it to our families…NOT!

Amanda September 20, 2011 - 10:33 AM

What bothers me about this is the fact the FDA and these companies that produce the juice are clearly more worried about business than safety. That in turn makes me question WHAT ELSE I’ve been consuming without being aware of the unnatural/unhealthy/dangerous chemicals that the FDA chooses to omit from the table of contents. I applaud Dr. Oz for taking and stand regardless of the heat he is catching–I hope this is eye-opening for everyone.

Lisa September 20, 2011 - 10:59 AM

This is a well written and informative follow up. I had a somewhat similar discussion with a coworker.

Chrissy September 20, 2011 - 11:14 AM

I was soooo waiting for you to respond to this!!! Thank you!

Colleen September 20, 2011 - 2:45 PM

Regardless of whether or not it has arsenic in it, parents shouldn’t be serving their kids apple juice anyhow, at least not very much of it, because of all the SUGAR!

Curlstar September 20, 2011 - 2:52 PM

I don’t care what Dr. Besser or other critics have to say about this, Dr. Oz did a great job of AT LEAST bringing this to our attention. We should know what is in our food, especially if the food is imported from another country. If the country that we are purchasing food from uses products that our government has banned, then the products that are in our stores that came from those countries should not have those banned items in them, on them or around them.

The focus should not have been changed to discredit Dr. Oz, as it was in the video with Dr. Besser, but it should have been on these companies that are allowing harmful chemicals to be in our food. They need to answer for this. Take a look at the number for the Gerber juice – that is a brand well known for producing products for babies and toddlers. That number is way too high, even if the sample was from the bottom of the bucket or not. Who is okay with feeding their children harmful chemicals? Why is it that they have not stepped up about that for corrective measures or some type of statement? Sorry for the rant, but when it comes to the kids, I pull out the soapbox. I’ll step down for now and go to my local farmer’s market for some apples and cider and ask about the blender version of apple juice (post please) 🙂

KalleyC September 20, 2011 - 6:23 PM

As a parent, it’s really hard making informed decisions when the cards are stacked against you. I applaud Dr. Oz for sharing what he found. Most companies and the FDA would rather have us live in the dark, and unaware of what we eat; just assume that everything we put in our mouths is safe.

By opening eyes of consumers, hopefully, the company will change practices or lose money.

Daphne September 20, 2011 - 8:04 PM

I don’t watch much TV; I was vaguely aware of this controversy and knew none of the details. After watching the video clip above and how heated Dr. Besser was, I decided to watch a clip of Dr. Oz’s show on Youtube that originally addressed this, as I assumed Besser’s anger was primarily about what Dr. Oz said on his show (which was why I assume his study methods are being refuted). For the record, I thought Dr. Besser came off poorly and in attack mode towards Dr. Oz.

I think it’s a good thing to be educated about our food supply, so we can make informed decisions. BUT, as a skeptic, I like to consider as many angles as I can. In light of that, I found this article interesting, especially the back and forth in the comments:


So…assuming the above article is accurate, Dr. Oz’s tests didn’t measure what he asserted they do. As I’ve stated on other posts, I’ve no issue with someone having the conversation. But, if you’re gonna go there (looking at you, Dr. Oz), don’t distort to propagate one’s confirmation bias. If Dr. Oz wants to initiate the conversation on a national level, especially using science, then it’s HIS responsibility to be circumspect and scientifically sound in his analysis. In other words, get in CYA mode so that you’re not accused of hyperbole and fear mongering. Otherwise, in my eyes, it does make him appear like a fear monger when critics refute his claims with science.

If Dr. Oz’s tests didn’t measure what he asserts – that’s pretty damning to the credibility of his concerns, even and especially if they are legitimate. In effect, the apple juice companies, and the FDA, can dismiss him, and possibly get away with poor regulation of arsenic in apple juice and its potential long-term effects (according to the clip I watched, that’s the heart of Dr. Oz’s issue).

Lea Thatcher September 23, 2011 - 2:22 PM

Pure water has a specific gravity of 1.0, and unfiltered apple juice usually has a specific gravity of about 1.050-1.055, so that’s what I’ll be going by for this.

– Arsenic exists in two forms: yellow and grey (metallic). Yellow arsenic clocks in at a specific gravity of 1.97, and grey arsenic has a measure of 5.73.

– Since one substance is assumed to sink in another substance if its specific gravity is greater (a lead weight in water) or float if it is less (oil in water), we can assume that arsenic of both categories will sink.

– However, yellow arsenic has a far smaller specific gravity than its metallic counterpart, and that’s going to be the type that’s most easily stirred up in batches of apple juice. A good question to ask at this point would be: is the batch being tested continually mixed, where both types of arsenic would be present in the majority of samples?

Part of my disillusionment with “modern science” is the all-too-common refusal to at least attempt to set up an experiment NOT engineered to produce a result biased toward a particular means.

Anyway, hope this helps; keep fighting the good fight, etc.!

Lethal Astronaut January 12, 2012 - 8:55 PM

I used to babysit a little girl who was given juice in her bottle as a toddler. By the time she was five, all her teeth had rotted, and she had to have them all pulled. Beneath her gums, it had affected the development of her adult teeth, and she went on to need major dental surgery.

She’d be in her teens now – how it has affected herself-esteem I don’t want to imagine.


Sure, everybody gives juice to their kids at some stage, but I think one truth has come out of this all: we shouldn’t be GIVING our kids juice in the first place!

Kids should be drinking breast milk (or formula) and water when they’re littlies, and milk or water when they’re older. And that’s about all really.

Same with adults. No juice. Juice is just empty calories. I don’t know when it got this whole “healthy” image, but it’s often as sugary as fizzy drink, and will rot your teeth just as quickly.

When I think of juice, and am tempted to give it to my kids, I try to remember little baby Sammy, and her mouth full of rotted teeth. And that stops me dead in my tracks.

Thanks for such a great post.

Tiffany March 6, 2012 - 5:28 PM

Thanks for this article and discussion. Its really making me look into making my own juices from local produce…. saving on calories, preservatives, and whatever else! SMH

Cleo Demopoulos April 18, 2013 - 1:19 AM

GMA, bottled juice, frozen foods, fast foods…. the list goes on! Then we have the issue of MONSANTO and so on. Meat consumption: overeating red meat to the point where humane farming (old ages) has turned into cruel practises just to meet the DEMAND. So much we have to consider about ‘what goes in our mouth’ and most importantly in the mouths of our children. OBESITY DIABETES, STROKES, HEART DISEASE… come on! Hypocrites was the first to say ‘make your food your medicine’ yet hospitals serve PLASTIC DEAD food to their patients. This whole matter of FOOD is at a point where if we don’t change our way of thinking, our way of eating, we will destroy our health and environment. I thank Dr Oz for bringing these matters to the publics attention. And to finish off, WHATS WRONG WITH JUICING ORGANIC FRUIT FRESH for OUR KIDS. THEY DESERVE IT!!!!

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