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Apple juice flap: Dr. Oz won't back down

September 16, 2011 |  9:45 am

Dr._Memhet_Oz Apple juice? Now we have to worry about drinking apple juice? That's what Dr. Mehmet Oz suggested on a recent airing of his syndicated TV show when he said that apple juice contains unacceptably high levels of arsenic.

And he's refusing to budge from that position, saying it's time for the nation to take a closer look at its food supply, particularly given how much food is imported from other countries where farming standards -- such as pesticide use -- are not the same as U.S. standards. A follow-up segment is scheduled for "The Dr. Oz Show" on Sept. 21. 

"I want everyone out there who has already purchased apple juice to keep drinking it," Oz told ABC News. "I don't have any concerns about it in the short run. My bigger concern is over the next decade or the next generation. We may be exposing our kids to needlessly high levels of arsenic." 

The "Dr. Oz Investigates" report is turning into a prescription for controversy as Oz finds himself facing criticism from several corners, not to mention accusations of fear-mongering.

Among the critics is Dr. Richard Besser, the former head of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who lit into Oz on "Good Morning America." He described the Oz segment as an "extremely irresponsible" report that tugs at the heartstrings of parents and was akin to "yelling 'Fire!' in a movie theater."

Gerber -- a leading manufacturer of apple juice for children -- posted a rebuttal on its website after Oz's report seemed to suggest that its products had the highest levels of arsenic tested. The statement said, in part: "We assure you that all Gerber products are safe to consume" and stressed that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration also "confirmed our product is safe."

The controversy has cast a spotlight on the nation's food supply as well as on arsenic. Arsenic is a naturally occurring element, but it can also be poisonous and continues to be used in pesticides in some  countries. Here's how a FAQ on Dr. Oz's website ties it all together:

"China is the world’s largest producer of arsenic. We outlawed arsenic in pesticides in the US, but we don’t know what happens in other countries’ apple orchards. Those apples can be sprayed with pesticides that contain inorganic arsenic. Our show found that one box of American apple juice can come from apple concentrate from China and six other countries. That’s how arsenic can get into the US juice supply. We have the right to know how safe that concentrate is."

The FDA is taking issue with the Oz report. In letters to the show posted on its website, the agency says that its testing -- which included one of the same lots featured in the segment -- didn't find elevated levels of arsenic.

The agency was displeased by the report in other ways as well, saying it didn't distinguish between organic arsenic and inorganic arsenic and that it compared acceptable levels of arsenic found in apple juice to that found in water. The FDA has a stricter standard for drinking water because people drink more water than apple juice. 

Oz is unapologetic about such distinctions: "The FDA should not allow more arsenic in our apple juice than we allow in our drinking water." 


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--Rene Lynch
Twitter / renelynch

Photo: Dr. Mehmet Oz. Credit: Charles Sykes / Associated Press