Saturday, September 24, 2011


It’s not arsenic and old lace, but more like a tempest in a Sippy cup. Fox - TV’s highly popular medical talk show guru, Dr. Mehmet Oz, stirred up controversy with his claim that popular apple juices, primarily based on apples from China, have dangerous levels of poisonous arsenic. Experts, including those from the Federal Food and Drug Administration, quickly disputed his conclusion that such juices are hazardous to our health.

As with many health-related controversies, the scientific details matter greatly. No one disputes that inorganic arsenic is very poisonous. An inorganic compound is one lacking the element carbon. Such compounds are often found as soluble salts, which readily release their constituents in water or, our concern here, digestive tract fluids and blood. Organic compounds contain carbon, and they often derive from biological activities. They may or may not be soluble in water, for example, and thus may or may not release their constituent atoms to cause damage in our bodies. If they pass through our digestive system, they cause little or no harm. This is why the FDA distinguishes between inorganic arsenic and organic arsenic.

Dr. Oz’s Fox News colleague, Dr. Manny Alvarez, supported Dr. Oz’s alert. Dr. Alvarez noted that the FDA tests food and drink samples against a level of 23 parts per billion (ppb) of total, organic plus inorganic, arsenic. Samples testing higher are re-tested for their inorganic arsenic levels. The FDA retested apple juice in response to this alarm and found levels much lower than those found by Dr. Oz’s tests. The FDA reported that over the past years, apple juice has tested to have less than 10 ppb inorganic arsenic, the level used by the Environmental Protection Agency as a criterion for drinking water, of which we are likely to consume much more than we consume apple juice. An FDA statement contradicting Dr. Oz stated, in part, “There is no evidence of any public health risk from drinking these juices. And FDA has been testing them for years.”

The controversy has mixed implications for New York agri-business. Although the juices in question derived largely from apples grown in china, anything that casts doubt on the safety of apples is likely to dampen demand for apples grown here.

Where does that leave us? I still like my apple juice, and I still like Dr. Oz’s program, a great improvement for me over the Oprah Winfrey Show it replaced.

If an apple a day keeps the doctor away, perhaps a cup of apple juice, which I used to replace my coffee, will do the same for me.

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