Video: Dr. Oz challenges FDA on arsenic in apple juice

  1. Closed captioning of: Dr. Oz challenges FDA on arsenic in apple juice

    >>> parents who saw the dr. oz show on wednesday may be throwing out their bottles and boxes of apple juice this morning. the show says an independent lab it hired found some brands have potentially dangerous levels of arsenic in them, but the fda says dr. oz got it wrong. we'll talk to him in a moment. but first, nbc's tom costello is in washington with the details on this. tom, good morning.

    >> reporter: hi, matt. good morning to you. in fact, the fda is calling the show irresponsible for what it says is bad information. for the audience watching the dr. oz show wednesday the allegation was startling.

    >> some of the best known brands in america have arsenic in their apple juice .

    >> reporter: the show says it hired an independent lab to test samples of apple juice produced overseas. that lab found one-third of the samples contained levels of arsenic higher than what the epa allows in drinking water .

    >> but guess what? there is no limit on arsenic in apple juice .

    >> reporter: the fda says that's misleading because there are different types of arsenic, some dangerous like from pesticides and some that's naturally occurring and not as dangerous. the dr. oz show only counted the total amount of arsenic without differentiating. in letters to the show a senior scientist at the fda warned that, quote, it would be irresponsible and misleading for the dr. oz show to suggest that apple juice contains unsafe amounts of arsenic. the fda also questioned the testing methods used by the show, since the fda conducted its own tests of the same apple juice lots and found arsenic levels well within safe margins, almost zero.

    >> try and interpret that data to mean that apple juice is unsafe, is misleading, it's irresponsible. and i think they're needlessly scaring parents.

    >> reporter: dr. oz responded by calling for more scientific research .

    >> i don't want folks to stop drinking apple juice . i want us to more seriously figure out if we've got an issue with apple juice .

    >> reporter: dr. oz says he is still buying american made apple juice while the juice industry insists all of its products are tested and safe.

    >> apple juice is tested before it enters the country. apple juice is tested before it enters the marketplace. apple juice is tested after it enters the marketplace. apple juice has been tested by fda for years, and fda has no cause for concern.

    >> reporter: the dr. oz show of course is very popular and dr. oz, himself, has become something of a national health guru, but in this case he's accused of getting it wrong and scaring his audience, matt.

    >> tom costello, thank you very much. dr. oz is with us now. good morning.

    >> good morning.

    >> so i'm a father of three children, 11, 7, and 4. apple juice is a staple in my house as it is in homes all across the country. on your show you sounded the alarm and you said you're concerned about the levels of arsenic found in some apple juices. you say it can be dangerous for long-term exposure. the fda disagrees. why should i believe you and not the fda ?

    >> you know, i have four children and like you and many parents i was very concerned to hear some reports which we began to process over the summer about other groups besides ours that there might be arsenic levels in apple juice higher than we would expect and allow and desire. so we did our own independent investigation, and we found studying 36 samples obtained from different parts of this country that we were i den fooig in about in about 30% of the samples levels higher than in our drinking or bottled water . we took this information to the trade organizations, to the juice companies, to the fda and asked if we should be alarmed. no one was willing to talk to us. we couldn't get anyone to offer any insight that was meaningful. they wouldn't come on the show. when i asked the fda how they figured out what would be a safe level of arsenic because we don't really have a level that is as a law in this country for the amount of arsenic in apple juice .

    >> right.

    >> they asked us to file a freedom of information act document.

    >> even if they didn't talk to you back then they are now speaking in reaction to what you said on the air on thursday. the fda says you missed, in your testing, something very important. that your testing failed to distinguish between organic arsenic and inorganic arsenic, and only took into account total arsenic levels and that you cannot accurately assess a threat level or danger level using that methodology.

    >> well, what's used today for drinking water in this country is the total arsenic level. in addition, when we asked the fda what level they thought may be of concern they didn't have anything for apple juice but said for pear juice they used a total arsenic level. so we went with the kinds of data they were looking for when they do their baseline service. in addition other peer reviewed reports of arsenic levels in apples have looked at inorganic versus organic levels. most of the arsenic found has been inorganic in nature. it takes weeks to differentiate the two. i also don't think it is fair to argue organic arsenic is safe. there are many folks, people who spend a lot of time studying toxins in the environment, who are concerned about organic arsenic levels as well. admittedly inorganic is what we should focus on.

    >> right.

    >> but the organic levels are of concern as well.

    >> you bring up the comparison to drinking water . we went to an independent expert at cornell's department of food and science. he says this about your study. he says the number of juice samples dr. oz took for analysis are not a statistically valid number of samples to make generalizations about the juice industry. this is a nonscientific way for extrapolating what a problem is. how would you respond to that?

    >> well, we studied 36 samples. when the fda came to us and expressed concerns we restudied them. they still were upset. so we actually had a different group submit 30 more samples and got that data as well, which was very similar to what we found in the first two studies. and so when we saw that compared to, you know, the limited amount of data out there, there have been three other groups but they've also been relatively small samples you realize the call to action here is not to condemn other folks. i love apple juice . i've been a big advocate. part of the reason i wanted to do the show is because i've been talking so much about the benefits of things like apple juice . if we're going to have a discussion about the arsenic levels in our apple juice let's have it and be clear on what we're really offering to folks that we're talking to about this stuff.

    >> so parents getting ready to prepare breakfast for their kids or sending their kids off to school with a drink that could be apple juice , the takeaway message, even though you're getting pushback now from the fda , your takeaway message this morning is what?

    >> my takeaway message is that i'm concerned because 60% of the apples we use in apple juice in america do not come from apples grown in this country, because we have changed our growth and treatment of apples in this country by banning the use of arsenic, pesticides in those apples but that is not true in other countries, that there is a heightened level of concern by me and others that there is arsenic slipping into our food supply by these imported apples so let's figure it out. in the meantime i would not pull the apple juice oust the bt of the box you're giving your kids. it's not harmful short term. it's only the long-term ramifications, matt, i'm worried about.

    >> all right. dr. oz, we will follow this story. we thank you for your time this morning, doctor.

    >> thank you.

By contributor
updated 9/15/2011 10:54:09 AM ET 2011-09-15T14:54:09

The host of the nationally-syndicated "Dr. Oz Show" is standing by his report on arsenic levels in store-bought apple juice, saying the levels found in some brands made them unsafe for consumption. But the U.S. Food and Drug Administration refutes the show’s report, calling it "irresponsible," and says drinking all brands of apple juice is safe.

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"I'm a father of three children, 11, 7 and 4, and apple juice is a staple in my house," Matt Lauer told Dr. Mehmet Oz on TODAY Thursday morning. "Why should I believe you and not the FDA?

Oz replied that when his investigation found what he thought was unsafe levels of arsenic in apple juice, the FDA refused to talk to him or come on his show.

But, the FDA reviewed Oz's test results and informed the show with a letter dated Sept. 9 that they couldn't be used to determine whether the juice is unsafe since it only measured the total arsenic.

Arsenic is both a naturally occurring and inorganic heavy metal, and some levels of it are found in the air we breathe, water we drink and in the ground. It is known to cause cancer and kidney problems. But while high levels of inorganic arsenic can be fatal, the organic form is essentially harmless, says Stephanie Yao, an FDA spokeswoman.

The "Dr. Oz Show" only tested for the total amount, while the FDA tests for levels of both organic and inorganic, says Yao. The FDA also told TODAY that the agency tested the same apple juice lots as Oz did, and found arsenic levels well within safe limits, almost zero.

"To try and interpret that data to mean that apple juice is unsafe, is misleading. It's irresponsible, and I think they're needlessly scaring parents," FDA scientist Don Zink, Ph.D, told TODAY.

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The FDA has established a benchmark of 23 parts per billion (ppb) of inorganic and organic arsenic to determine whether a food or beverage is a public health risk or reaches a “level of concern.” If that level is reached, the FDA re-tests a sample to measure the inorganic arsenic.

“As a doctor and a parent, it’s concerning me to that there could be toxins such as arsenic in juice we are giving to our kids,” said two-time Emmy Award-winning host Dr. Mehmet Oz said on his show. “While we do not know of any cases of poisonings, we do know that arsenic is a substance that shouldn’t be in food and could be associated with various public health problems such as cancer. Our show today demonstrates that there is in fact arsenic in some juice products and advocates that allowable levels should be equal with tap and bottle water standards.”

Oz said his show was about the public’s right to know what is in the juice they give their children. He told Lauer that parents shouldn't be alarmed or throw out their apple juice, but that he wants to open a discussion about arsenic in juice.

The FDA's Yao maintains there is no cause for alarm.

“We have been monitoring levels of arsenic in many foods, including apple juice for several years, and the data we have shows there really is no cause for concern,” she told Wednesday. “There are very low levels in apple juice. All brands are safe to drink and there is no concern about drinking fruit juices, including apple juice.”

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