by Charlotte Vallaeys, M.S., M.T.S.
Dr. Oz in Time Magazine Slandering Families Who Choose Safe, Organic Food for Their Children — Off-Base/Ill AdvisedAs Americans become increasingly aware of the story behind conventional foods—the ecologically destructive monoculture fields, the petrochemical fertilizers, the toxic pesticides and dangerous fumigants—the agrochemical industry has launched an all-out media offensive against the booming organic industry.
The agrochemical industry’s communications specialists have apparently found willing partners in major nationwide media outlets like The New York Times and Time magazine, which have recently published articles discouraging people from buying organic foods. The message is nearly always the same, as industry-friendly researchers and reporters downplay the role and harm caused by agricultural chemicals and focus instead on the differences between a handful of common nutrients. Despite overwhelming scientific evidence to the contrary, the conclusion is always that organic foods are not worth the extra price because the nutritional differences are minimal.
First, we must set the record straight. Scientific studies show that milk from pastured cows contains higher levels of beneficial fats. Beef from grass-fed cattle and eggs from pastured hens are lower in cholesterol and saturated fat and higher in healthy omega-3 fatty acids and Vitamins A and E. Organic strawberries and tomatoes contain more healthy antioxidants. These are all undisputed facts laid out in a myriad of published, peer-reviewed scientific papers.
Consumers increasingly turn to organic and grass-based foods, based on this scientific evidence that has been reported in magazines, including Time, in recent years. Now, the latest issue of Time mindlessly repeats the agribusiness mantra: “Nutritionally, an egg is an egg.” Milk is milk. And canned peas, with toxic pesticide residues, heated to extreme temperatures during processing, and then placed in a container lined with a suspected endocrine disruptor, are just as healthy as those for sale at a farmer’s market, picked fresh from a local field just hours ago.
The purpose of these media reports and stories seems to be to pull Americans away from thoughtful discourse about our food and back to blissful ignorance. Concern over pesticides, animal welfare, fostering local economies, and pollution turn people toward organic and local foods—and that’s bad for business for the chemical and industrial farming industries. No wonder they want us all to look at an egg, whether produced on a factory farm or laid by a free-range, pastured hen, and see nothing more.
The paternalistic message—to shut up and eat our food—is no longer working. Americans are no longer ignoring the mounting scientific evidence that pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, hormones, antibiotics and other drug residues are harming us, even at extremely low levels, and especially our children.
This scientific evidence about pesticides’ harmful effects, most recently reviewed by the American Academy of Pediatrics and covered in the latest issue of Pediatrics, will continue to be a major driving force behind the booming success and growth of the organic food movement.
The agrochemical industry will not win the hearts and minds (and stomachs) of Americans, especially when the health of our children is on the line. So they have turned their latest attempt to bring Americans back to blind trust in conventional foods by focusing on our collective class resentments. A more sinister message has taken hold, likening a diet of conventional foods to “The 99% Diet” and a chemical-free organic diet as “elitist.”
In Time magazine, Dr. Mehmet Oz, who once told millions of viewers, “I want you to eat organic foods” and “your kids deserve better than to be part of a national chemistry experiment,” has seemingly changed his tune and turned the decision to buy organic foods into a political and class issue.
Not only did Dr. Oz write that conventional foods are nutritionally equal to organic foods (he never mentions pesticide contamination), he calls organic foods “elitist.” Suddenly, a middle-class mother who decides to pay extra for a safe haven from pesticide contamination is called “snooty” and a “food snob” by the very same celebrity physician who once urged her to protect her children from agricultural chemicals by choosing organic.
Of course, the scientific evidence has not changed since Dr. Oz told us to buy organic. The study, for example, that showed statistically significant higher rates of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in children with higher levels of dietary pesticide exposure has not disappeared, and is considered as scientifically sound and convincing today as it was when it was first published in 2010 and reported in media outlets including Time.
The conventional food advocates are now attempting to dissuade Americans from buying organic foods by turning the issue into one of class and privilege. The tactic is to paint food as a reflection of one’s position in society, like owning a Mercedes or fancy yacht, rather than a question of health and safety—organic food is painted not as a safe haven from pesticides, but as an elitist food for the “1%.” Would any of us 99%’ers want to be considered a “snob?”
Middle-class Americans who prioritize personal finances and choose to protect their children from harmful pesticide residues should be proud of this decision, and should not be bullied or shamed by Oz. Our children, as Dr. Oz once noted, should not serve as the human equivalents of lab rats. Rather than malign organic foods as elitist, we must recognize the very real and indisputable health benefits of organics and work to make pure, wholesome, uncontaminated foods more accessible and affordable for all.
Charlotte Vallaeys, M.S., M.T.S.
Director, Farm and Food Policy
The Cornucopia Institute
The Time cover story from 12/3/12 on “What to Eat Now” by Dr. Mehmet Oz is available, click title.
Excerpts from the article, with Cornucopia’s responses:
Dr. Oz: “Nutritionally speaking, there is little difference between the farmer’s-market bounty and the humble brick from the freezer case.”
Cornucopia response: Dr. Oz compares conventional and organic foods throughout the article by focusing exclusively on the differences between a handful of nutrients. This is exactly what the agrochemical and conventional farming industries, and their front group, the Alliance for Food and Farming, would like the American public to focus on. Just two months ago, Dr. Oz told the viewers of his syndicated television show to buy organic vegetables to avoid pesticide residues. Now, in his copywritten Time story, the word “pesticide” or “agricultural chemical” is never mentioned.
Dr. Oz: “Dispelling these myths—that boutique foods are good, supermarket foods are suspect and you have to spend a lot to eat well—is critical to improving our nation’s health. Organic food is great, it’s just not very democratic.”
Cornucopia response: What can be more democratic than consumers voting with their food dollars to support organic farmers who protect our environment and our health by eschewing harmful and polluting agrochemicals? Even if there were no direct benefit to our families (plenty of published scientific research indicates there is), when we choose organic food we are protecting farmers and farmworkers from exposure to toxic chemicals. Many farmers, farmworkers and their children have elevated levels of certain cancers and chronic diseases.
Dr. Oz: “The rise of foodie culture over the past decade has venerated all things small-batch, local-farm and organic—all with premium price tags. But let’s be clear: you don’t need to eat like the 1% to eat healthily.”
Cornucopia response: Organic foods are not for the “1%.” Organic foods are for everybody, and are accessible and affordable to most families who prioritize their expenses. Many organic consumers forgo other “luxuries,” whether it be iPhones, vacations, new cars – all of which are advertised in the same Time magazine where Dr. Oz’s article appears – in order to be able to afford organic foods to protect their family’s health. These decisions should be applauded, not turned into a character flaw.
Dr. Oz: “After several years of research and experience, I have come to an encouraging conclusion: the American food supply is abundant, nutritionally sound, affordable and, with a few simple considerations, comparable to the most elite organic diets. Save the cash; the 99% diet can be good for you.”
Cornucopia response: Dr. Oz’s research apparently missed the countless studies showing that organic foods are nutritionally superior, lower in pesticide residues, lower in antibiotic-resistant pathogen contamination, etc. In addition to being published in peer-reviewed journals, testing by independent sources such as Consumer Reports (Consumer Union) and government agencies such as the USDA corroborate these findings.
Dr. Oz: “I consider it a public-health service to the consumer who has to feed a family of five or the person who wants to make all the right choices and instead is alienated and dejected because the marketing of healthy foods too often blurs into elitism, with all the expense and culinary affectation that implies.”
Cornucopia response: The added expense of buying organic foods is an investment in health. In the interest of public health, Dr. Oz should have mentioned the pesticides, hormones, antibiotics, synthetic preservatives, artificial dyes and sweeteners, and other harmful inputs used in conventional farming and food production. Comparing nutrients is just one aspect of a cost-benefit analysis. Dr. Oz owes his loyal fans, who respect his judgment, a more thoughtful and nuanced analysis.
Dr. Oz: “There’s no question that free-range chickens and grass-fed, pasture-dwelling cows lead happier–if not appreciably longer–lives than animals raised on factory farms. They are also kept free of hormones and antibiotics and are less likely to carry communicable bacteria like E. coli, which are common on crowded feedlots. If these things are important to you and you have the money to spend, then by all means opt for pricier organic meats.”
Cornucopia response: Yes, Dr. Oz, avoiding hormones and antibiotics is important to us, and it should be to you, too. However, just because a package says “free range” or “grass-fed” does not mean it is certified organic, and therefore is not certified to be produced without some of the most dangerous and objectionable drugs. Concerned consumers should go out of their way to seek out the organic seal.
Dr. Oz: “But for the most part, it’s O.K. to skip the meat boutiques and the high-end butchers. Nutritionally, there is not much difference between, say, grass-fed beef and the feedlot variety.”
Cornucopia response: Dr. Oz’s statement is not backed by scientific data, which consistently shows lower levels of cholesterol and saturated fat and higher levels of beneficial omega-3 fats and vitamins in grass-fed beef compared with feedlot beef.
Dr. Oz: “Let’s also take a moment to celebrate the tuna-salad sandwich, which is to lunch what the ’57 Chevy is to cars–basic and brilliant.”
Cornucopia response: It is unconscionable that Dr. Oz touts the nutritional benefits of canned tuna, without mentioning the FDA and EPA warnings concerning methylmercury contamination. The FDA and EPA recommend that women who may become pregnant, pregnant women, nursing mothers and young children limit their consumption of canned light tuna to no more than 12 ounces per week, and their consumption of canned albacore tuna to no more than 6 ounces per week.
Dr. Oz: “Preserves and jams without added sugar can be great sources of dietary fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C and potassium.”
Cornucopia response: Preserves and jams without added sugar often contain added artificial sweeteners, such as aspartame, which has been linked in studies to cancer and neurological damage. Aspartame and other artificial sweeteners are banned in organic products.
Dr. Oz: “We know more about the connection between food and health than ever before—down to the molecular level, actually. This has provided us the curious luxury of being fussy, even snooty, about what we eat, considering some foods, well, below our station. That’s silly. Food isn’t about cachet. It’s about nourishment, pleasure and the profound well-being that comes from the way meals draw us together.”
Cornucopia response: Dr. Oz spends the entire article attempting to convince the American public that there are few, if any, differences between conventional and organic foods. Yet in his closing paragraphs he tacitly acknowledges that we “know more about … food and health than ever before – down to the molecular level.” This contradicts his earlier statements that there are no differences.
Most people who buy organic foods do so not because they are “snooty,” as Dr. Oz suggests, but because they seek to protect themselves and their families from the widely recognized harmful effects of pesticides and other agrichemicals.