Adult supervision for fries and Dr. Oz hype over arsenic and apple juice

09/15/2011 02:43:00 PM
Tom Karst

The Drudge Report had a headline "Adult supervision for fries" as a link to the story about the commitment by Darden Restaurants to feature fruits and vegetables as the default choice for meal options for kids. Here is the White House press release about the news.

In short, here are the changes Darden agreed to:


Kids’ Menus – changes starting now and to be fully implemented by July 2012

  •    Guarantee a fruit or vegetable will be the default side for every kids’ menu item at those restaurants offering a default side on the children’s menu: Bahama Breeze, LongHorn Steakhouse and Red Lobster.
  •    1% milk will be the default beverage, provided automatically if no alternate beverage is requested. Milk will be prominently promoted on the menu and made available with free refills.
  •    Food illustrations on the menu will promote the healthy choices for meals and drinks.
  •    Healthier menu options will be more prominently displayed when possible.
  •    Carbonated beverages will not be displayed on children’s menus.
  •    Improve the nutritional content of one or more children’s menu items to provide equal or less than 600 calories, 30% of total calories from fat, 10% of total calories from saturated fat and 600 mg of sodium.

 

These are great changes. Can we agree that kids should eat more fruits and vegetables? Then replacing fries with fruits and vegetables is a good thing. Also, kudos for removing carbonated beverages from the children's menu. All of us, particularly young people, could do well without the calorie load of sugary pop. Can we stop eating cookies by taking away the cookie jar? That's the idea, if we put it far enough out of reach...

 

How many readers saw the Dr. Oz segment about apple juice and arsenic? I watched for about half an hour. In my view, Dr. Oz was less MD and more mass media manipulator, true to the vacated Oprah time slot. Talking to moms (and one dad) about parts per billion of arsenic in apple juice, he successfully evoked gasps, exclamations (I've been duped!) and applause (let's get the industry and FDA to do something, by God). I must say however, his alarmist approach seemed more credible when no one from the apple juice industry or from the FDA appeared on his show. The apple juice industry needed a "million dollar man" to step and answer the fire from Dr. Oz. That was not to be.

So it was Mission Accomplished as far as creating a buzz about arsenic and apple juice, and the media fallout continues today. Here is coverage from Medpagetoday.com "FDA slams Dr. OZ for apple juice report" and this video clip from Good Morning shows a lively debate on the issue.

The Food and Drug Administration officials went to extreme lengths to warn Dr. Oz about his approach and then brace the media for the cosumer reaction to the Oz segement, which aired yesterday. 

Here is what the USDA sent to my inbox yesterday morning:


Dear Industry Trade Press Constituent:
 
We wanted to let you know about some new information that is available on the FDA Internet site that may be of interest to you.
 
We have posted new information on the FDA's Internet site on the issue of apple juice and arsenic.  As you are probably already aware, arsenic is present in the environment as a naturally-occurring substance or as a result of contamination from human activity, such as from the use of certain pesticides or fertilizers.  It is found in water, air, food, and soil.
There are two types of arsenic: organic and inorganic. The inorganic forms of arsenic are the harmful forms, while the organic forms of arsenic are essentially harmless. Because both forms of arsenic have both been found in soil and ground water, small amounts can be found in certain food and beverage products – including fruit juices and juice concentrates.

The Dr. Oz show is airing a segment today, September 14, 2011, on this issue and we wanted to ensure that there was reliable information available for consumers and our other constituents to accurately answer their questions and concerns.


 The FDA issued two separate letters to the producers of the Dr. Oz show urging them not to air the segment because the information they present is misleading and it would be irresponsible to suggest that apple juice contains unsafe amounts of arsenic based on tests for total arsenic since it does not distinguish between organic and inorganic.  At this time, it appears that the episode is still scheduled to air this afternoon at 3 PM EST.   We have also posted the letters that were sent to the Dr. Oz show on our Internet site in an effort to provide additional information to constituents.  
 
In addition, at 3PM today, there will be a blog posted on www.foodsafety.gov on this issue where constituents can obtain information and have the opportunity to ask questions.  Answers from FDA will be posted back onto the blog so that all readers will have access to the responses.
 
We encourage you to share the information with your constituents as well as with any other connections that you may have that you feel would benefit from receiving this information.
 
We appreciate your assistance in our outreach efforts on this issue.
 
http://www.fda.gov/Food/ResourcesForYou/Consumers/ucm271595.htm - Questions & Answers: Apple Juice and Arsenic
http://www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm271394.htm - FDA: Apple Juice is Safe To Drink (Consumer Update)
http://www.fda.gov/Food/ResourcesForYou/Consumers/ucm271746.htm - Letters from the FDA to the Dr. Oz Show Regarding Apple Juice and Arsenic

Also, the U.S. Apple Association issued this statement to the media on the issue.

 

If we could only go back to the good old days, right mom? As Billy Joel said,  the good old days weren't always good...

Did you know that arsenic used to be widely applied as a pesticide in the U.S.?  From a U.S. Geological Survey publication:

Arsenical pesticide use was most extensive and widespread in agricultural applications from the 1920s to the late 1950s, and largely ceased agricultural use by the early 1960s in the nation. During this time period, lead arsenate was the most extensively used arsenical pesticide (Peryea, 1998), particularly in apple orchards. Other metal-bearing pesticides, such as copper acetoarsenite (Paris Green), Bordeaux Blue (a mixture of copper sulfate and calcium hydroxide), and organic mercury fumigants were used to a lesser degree in orchards (Peryea, 1998; Shepard, 1939; Veneman et al., 1983).

 

I found a reference that shows that use of arsenic was active even at the end of the 19th century. In the book "The Arsenic Century: How Victorian Britain was poisoned at home, work and play" author James C. Whorton writes:

"The difference in scale between the two nations (the U.S. and Britain) consumption of arsenical pesticides was dramatized in 1891 when an English agricultural magazine protested that apples from America often arrived with a visible coating of arsenic left from excessive spraying."

Six parts per billion in apple juice or a visible residue on whole apples? I think we are living in safer times, friends. Send Dr. Oz a memo.



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