Frightening people… simply irresponsible!

December 10, 2010 (see follow up related blog entry on the ‘Wizardry of Oz‘)

The episode of the Dr. Oz show the other day on “GM / GE foods and technology” has further perpetuated common misconceptions about GE and GMOs.  Scientists and tech/science advocates all over the world are shaking their heads and sighing.  Popular media and celebrity carries so much power with consumers and this type of irresponsible reporting and misrepresentation of facts is problematic for society at large.

In Newton’s words “to every action there is an equal and opposite reaction”… this may not be an ‘equal’ reaction, but the efforts of the science community to come forth and respond to Dr Oz and the show’s producers through letters/emails is a step in the right direction.

I draw your attention to Dr. Terry Etherton, a Distinguished Professor of Animal Nutrition and Head of the Department of Dairy and Animal Science at Penn State University.  Today’s entry “GMOs and the Dr. Oz Show – A Stampede over Science”  in his blog entitled “Blog on Biotechnology” challenges the Dr Oz show and its producers for scripting, editing and content ( )

“My initial thought about the show was that it provided a great opportunity to present the facts about the efficacy and safety of GMOs to a large audience.  Unfortunately, what “played out” was way past disappointing.  There was unbelievable bias in how the segment was edited to produce the “final” version that overshadowed the sound scientific facts about GMOs.  I found it remarkable that much of what Dr. Ronald presented during the filming of the segment was edited “out” of the final version of the show!” 

Dr. Etherton wrote to the producer of the show, Rosalyn Menon.  His letter is also included in his blog entry.  Here is, in my opinion, a great excerpt!

“Unfortunately, the undertone of this segment was that the American people are the victim of some sinister plot by the conventional agriculture industry (and the scientific community) to feed them unsafe and unhealthy food, and that niche market food products, such as organic or “non-GMO verified” labeled foods are somehow safer or healthier.  However, nothing could be further from the truth.  The men and women who farm in America as well as agricultural/food scientists involved in developing new technologies to feed the growing World’s population care about the safety of food and food products sold to consumers (I know because I grew up on a farm in Illinois).  To imply otherwise, simply to frighten people into purchasing alternative products that are no safer or more nutritious, is simply irresponsible.”

Dr. Robert Wager, of Vancouver Island University, co-authored the timely article “Popular misconceptions: agricultural biotechnology” in December’s issue of New Biotechnology, also wrote a letter to the Show’s producers (see my blog entry of December 9th for a link to the McHughen/Wager article. With Dr. Wager’s permission, I include his letter below:

Dear Producer

It is truly a mark of our time that facts are irrelevant in TV programming.  Perhaps I am wrong to think the Dr. Oz show was about the real science of health.  The episode on GM food was an excellent example of pseudo-science and yellow journalism.  For Dr. Oz (and I now use that title with reservation) to claim to be a supporter of science and then to absolutely block any attempts to present the real science on GM crops and food is unforgivable.  Every single example of alleged harm the other guests claimed has been refuted by real scientific organizations from around the world.  A typical example of pseudo-science had Jeff Smith state the American Academy of Environmental Medicine claim GM foods cause all manners of harm to humans. 

 Does Dr. Oz now support homeopathy as the AAEM does? 

Has Dr. Oz actually read the AMA report on GM crops and food which states :

 “Genetically modified foods raise many issues–scientific, technological, environmental, social, ethical, economic, and political.”132 Controversy over GM food exposes larger issues about public trust in science and the role of science in policymaking. In an increasingly complex world, trust functions as a substitute for knowledge. Interference with our systems of food production has always aroused public concern, occasionally with justification. Attempts to introduce GM foods have stimulated not a reasoned debate, but a potent negative campaign by people with other agendas. Opponents ignore common farming practices and well investigated facts about plants, or inaccurately present general problems as being unique to GM plants.” 

Imagine my surprise when Dr. Oz chose to slander GM food by siding with those who believe homeopathy is ‘real medicine’ over the American Medical Association position.

I suspect no one at your show is aware of the 15 years and 81 separate research projects by the European Commission that found:

[GM food]  has not shown any new risks to human health or the environment, beyond the usual uncertainties of conventional plant breeding. Indeed the use of more precise technology and the greater regulatory scrutiny probably make then even safer than conventional plants and food’

Kessler, C. and Economidis, I. (2001) EC Sponsored Research on the Safety of Genetically Modified Organisms – A Review of Results. Office for Official Publications of the European Communities

I could list the many biases the show used to pump the fear, but I suspect you are fully aware of them.  The real science of GM foods is very clear and there is not a single food safety body in the world that has found safety concerns for GM food beyond those of conventional bred food crops.  There is not a national food safety body in the world that has recorded a documented case of harm from consuming GM food.  Every claim to the contrary has been demonstrated to be false.

Credibility is a strange thing.  It often takes years to gain but mere seconds to lose.  At this point the position put forward by Dr. Oz is exactly what can destroy his credibility.  There are a great many real science organizations and real scientists willing to help Dr. Oz present the real story about GM crops and food.  It would definitely be in his and your best interest to take advantage of these sources and present a show that will address the damage the episode did to the  “public trust in science” and specifically the trust in the real science of GM crops and food.  Anything less will be a clear demonstration to many that the Dr. Oz show does not care about real science.  I seriously doubt that is what you want.

Robert Wager

I encourage you to take up the torch here… write Dr Oz and share your opinions, insights, concerns and ideas:

Ms. Rosalyn Menon
The Dr. Oz Show
30 Rockefeller Plaza – 43rd floor
New York, NY  10112

Media hype and organic agriculture: a study published in the British Food Journal

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According to Kansas State University’s Doug Powell, news accounts of organic agriculture and organic food are more likely to be positive than negative, and inaccurately claim that organic food is safer. Powell co-authored the study “Coverage of organic agriculture in North American newspapers: Media – linking food safety, the environment, human health and organic agriculture” recently published in the British Food Journal, along with colleagues Stacey Cahill and Katija Morley at the University of Guelph. Analysing the content of 618 newspaper articles over six years, they found 41.4% has a neutral tone toward organic agriculture and food, 36.9% had a positive tone, 15.5% were mixed, and 6.1% were negative. “Organic agriculture was often portrayed in the media as alternative to allegedly unsafe and environmentally damaging modern agriculture practices,” says Powell.