The Food and Drug Administration is fighting an infowar with telegenic, day-time TV host Dr. Oz, and if Facebook is any indicator, the federal regulator is getting its clock cleaned. The unusual feud began earlier this week when NBC affiliate stations began airing a preview of yesterday's Dr. Oz Show episode charging that "the apple juice you and your family drink may contain arsenic, a poisonous metal known to cause cancer and potential IQ problems." The terrifying preview inspired a counterattack by the FDA, which published two letters to The Dr. Oz Show refuting the claim, fact sheets explaining how safe apple juice is and a bulletin on the FDA Facebook page. But it may not be enough to quell Dr. Mehmet Oz's loyal, and now horrified, fan base.
"Tell me FDA.... I read your article but WHERE IS YOUR PROOF that it is safe for my babies?????" writes Dawn Hefenfinger on the FDA's Facebook page. "You get paid the big bucks to slowly poison my family."
"I honestly trust what Dr. Oz is saying," adds another commenter Chandra Chauhan. "He has no vested interest to report any lies. So, FDA, please get your act together. It's your job!!!" Another adds, "Ridiculous! You need to regulate this. Do your job!" And another, "The FDA is Killing off humans and the OBAMA Administration has no problems with it." The list of comments goes on.
Holy smokes! Did this TV doctor just expose a gaping hole in the FDA's regulatory oversight?
No. Of course he didn't. At the heart of the dispute is a misunderstanding about the risks posed by organic and inorganic arsenic, as the AP's Marilynn Marchione reports:
The issue: arsenic is naturally present in water, air, food, and soil in organic and inorganic forms, according to the FDA.
"Organic arsenic is essentially harmless," the agency says, and it passes through the body quickly. Inorganic arsenic is the type found in pesticides, and consuming it at high levels or over a long period can cause concern.
The testing "The Dr. Oz Show" did was for total arsenic, and the FDA even disputes those levels. The agency's own tests found lower total arsenic from one of the same juice batches the show's lab tested.
"There is no evidence of any public health risk from drinking these juices. And FDA has been testing them for years," the statement says.
Yet the preview of his show, and indeed, the entire episode, is intensely alarmist:
And beyond the airing of the show, Oz's website has posted a whole range of literature with dire warnings, which Dr. Oz account has been tweeting this afternoon. Here is a sample by Russell H. Greenfield, MD, Clinical Assistant Professor of Medicine at UNC Chapel Hill School of Medicine:
Dr. Oz and his staff have performed their own investigation into this matter, and they, too, found high levels of arsenic in some apple juice products. The findings raise significant health concerns for us and for our children, and have generated incredulousness that this could happen in our country... Should you be angry? Yes...
Are FDA leaflets and Facebook pages any match for Oz's multi-platform assault on "poisonous" apple juice? They're surely not stopping the swelling list of commenters berating the FDA this afternoon. FDA, is this your best shot? Maybe try jumping into the comment thread. We'll be watching.