Remember the big hubbub a few months back when daytime TV drama-doc Mehmet Oz—not exactly the most credible MD—made a big deal about finding trace amounts of arsenic in apple juice? Remember that ABC News’ Dr. Richard Besser quickly laid the smackdown on Oz’s scaremongering? Or that the Food and Drug Administration warned Oz that hyping the results would be “irresponsible and misleading”? Unfortunately, some Congressmen apparently trust the made-for-TV doctor over the experts.
The scaremongering over apple juice took a new twist when two Congressmen introduced a bill that would require the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to create standards for arsenic and lead in fruit juices. While neither Representative could cite a single case of a child becoming ill from apple juice, they believe their “solution” is necessary. Perhaps the politicians have been watching too much TV?
Last year Dr. Oz made a “startling discovery” on his television show, claiming that apple juice contained levels of arsenic higher than the amount allowed by the FDA in drinking water. Prior to the show’s airing, an FDA scientist warned Oz that the agency “believes that it would be irresponsible and misleading for The Dr. Oz Show to suggest that apple juice contains unsafe amounts of arsenic based solely on tests for total arsenic.” While Oz made the total arsenic levels in juice seem alarming, there is a key difference between organic and inorganic arsenic: only the latter is hazardous to humans. Organic arsenic compounds are rapidly excreted from the body, while inorganic arsenic accumulates in the liver, spleen, kidneys, lungs, and gastrointestinal tract, leaving residue after it is cleared. Plus, in the FDA’s own test of the apple juice the results were much lower and the juice was not considered unsafe.
So is legislation necessary? An FDA spokesperson told USA Today that the agency has been monitoring arsenic levels in juice for 20 years without finding cause for alarm — in fact, it found that “total arsenic levels in apple juice are routinely low.” As for lead, the FDA said it has no reason to believe that it’s a public-health concern.
The hyperbolic Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) commented a few months back that it is watching the discussion over arsenic in juice closely, and stated, “Maybe it’s time to consider arsenic standards for other foods and drinks?” Maybe it’s really time to consider standards for toxicity in food police activism. For starters, we’d require any reports from Dr. Oz or CSPI to carry five skulls.