Arsenic! That’s the buzz word of the day, and it’s been spun out of something we tend to consider the height of childhood lunchtime innocence: apple juice. On Wednesday, TV personality Dr. Mehmet Oz reported on his Fox show that independent tests have uncovered alarming amounts of arsenic in a variety of apple juice brands. This isn’t sitting well with the Food and Drug Administration, who have shot back a statement that Dr. Oz’s claims are of little merit.
"American apple juice is made from apple concentrate, 60 percent of which is imported from China… Other countries may use pesticides that contain arsenic, a heavy metal known to cause cancer,” said Dr. Oz in his report, where he claimed that 10 samples from various big-name apple juice brands contained more arsenic than the legal limit allowed in drinking water.
The trouble with this is that arsenic is present in many different things, in both inorganic and organic forms. The FDA claims that people consume small amounts of organic arsenic every day through various means, and are able to process it without breaking a sweat. It’s the inorganic type of arsenic found in pesticides that create the real problems. But in Dr. Oz’s study, while he implies through his aside to China that the type found is inorganic, it’s never objectively said.
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The conflict of opinions heated up when ABC health and medical editor (and former CDC acting head) Dr. Richard Besser spoke out against Dr. Oz yesterday on Good Morning America. "I think that this was extremely irresponsible," said Besser. "It reminds me of yelling fire in a movie theater.”
Dr. Oz later told Diane Sawyer that he never intended to cause a panic by suggesting that giving a child a box of apple juice is akin to having them drink pesticide. “I don't want parents panicking over this," he said. "What I want to have is a conversation so we can bring clarity to this and make it safer."
On the one hand, there’s no question that we need to be more informed (not to mention more inquisitive) about where our food is coming from, what’s in it, and how we can ensure better food safety. But it’s also critical that public discussions on the matter are done in a smart, informed, and transparent matter – if not, they risk doing more harm than good. But hey – Dr. Oz definitely got people talking. Mission: accomplished.