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Dr. Oz Flip-Flops as High-Profile Attacks on Organic Food Intensify
America's most popular TV doctor seems to have forgotten his own words that organic food is "worth the investment" and is instead trashing organics. Why the flip flop?
"So you're being told organic food is no more nutritious than conventional and it's not worth your extra money. Well I'm here to say that it is worth the investment. Why do I say that? Pesticides." - - Dr. Oz, Oct. 19, 2012
Less than two months after telling millions of TV viewers that organic food is "worth the investment," America's most popular TV doctor is singing a different tune. In the December issue of Time magazine, Dr. Oz described organic foodies as "elitist" -- part of the 1% - and claimed that conventional foods are nutritionally equivalent to organic foods. According to 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.
Suddenly, the pesticides Dr. Oz was so concerned about a couple of months ago, the ones he warned viewers were "one of the greatest threats to your kids' health," no longer matter. What's more, if you're spending extra money to avoid them, you're a food snob -- instead of a responsible, health-conscious parent.
Dr. Oz's flip-flop is just the latest in a series of highly-publicized mass media attacks on organic food and farming. It follows on the heels of a much-ballyhooed, controversial Stanford University study, released in September. The Stanford study concluded that fruits and vegetables labeled organic were, on average, no more nutritious than their conventional -- and far less expensive -- counterparts.
Ironically, it was this same study that Dr. Oz bashed on his October 19 television show for ignoring the obvious: Conventional food is loaded with toxic pesticides, which makes it not only less healthful, but downright dangerous. Especially for children.
At a time when the health of Americans is rapidly deteriorating -- skyrocketing obesity, childhood diabetes, ever-increasing cases of asthma, allergies, autism, and cancer -- there appears to be a concerted and insidious effort to smear organics, to convince consumers that there's no connection between their poor health and the low-grade chemical food on their plates. Food routinely grown in nutrient-deficient soil, sprayed with toxic pesticides, pumped full of antibiotics and hormones, and genetically modified in Monsanto's laboratories.
Instead, anti-organic forces are pushing the message that cheaper food is better for your wallet. And just fine for your health. Both the Stanford Study and Dr. Oz's Time article focus on cost to consumers at the checkout counter. Neither addresses the long-term cost of poor health caused by toxic chemicals, or the long-term cost to the planet of chemical-intensive, climate-disruptive, unsustainable agricultural practices.
That Stanford study, which was highlighted by major media outlets including the New York Times , Associated Press, and CBS News, didn't address pesticides and their proven link to health problems, especially in children. It didn't address waterways polluted by tons of pesticides and chemical fertilizers. The study was limited to fruits and vegetables, so it didn't have to address the growing public health crisis of antibiotics and hormone residues in meat and dairy, nor the millions of annual food poisoning cases attributed to filthy meat and animal products coming out of the nation's factory farm feedlots and slaughterhouses.
The Stanford study also completely ignored the horrendous damage to the environment by non-organic industrial farms and feedlots, including the devastating consequences to the planet of carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide emissions from chemical fertilizers and huge factory farm operations. Recent statistics indicate that the direct (greenhouse gas pollution) and indirect (tropical deforestation) impacts of industrial food and farms are the largest contributor to global warming.
What the Stanford study did, thanks to a huge public relations push, was spread the message that organic fruits and vegetables are expensive, and conventional fruits and vegetables are just as good but cheaper. No doubt, the authors hope that consumers will carry over that message from fruits and vegetables, to all things organic.
It's no surprise that the Stanford study would focus on cost. As it turns out, the study was produced by Stanford's Freeman Spogli Institute, which gets millions in funding from agribusiness giant Cargill, the world's largest agricultural business enterprise, and foundations like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which have deep ties to agricultural chemical and biotechnology corporations like Monsanto. These giant corporations are all part of the same cabal that contributed at least half of the $46 million spent between October 1 and November 6 to defeat Prop 37, the California Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act. Just a coincidence that the Stanford study and the mass media propaganda barrage that accompanied it was released during the election season, when voters were still weighing their options on the high-profile California GMO labeling law that was making national headlines?
The motives behind the Stanford study and the Freeman Spogli Institute are obvious. What caused Dr. Oz to flip-flop is anyone's guess -- and just might make for a good story someday. Informed sources behind the scenes have told us that Dr. Oz is under tremendous pressure from the biotech industry after airing a segment earlier this fall that supported GMO labeling. He's also getting pressure from Big Pharma and federal regulatory agencies for his previous exposures of industry malpractices.
Consumer demand for organics is rising steadily. Last year, organic foods accounted for $31.4 billion in sales, according to a recent Obama administration report. Compare that with just $3.6 billion in 1997, and it makes sense that multinational junk food companies, like Pepsi, General Mills, Coca-Cola and others, are buying up organic brands. But these companies also know that there's more money in the $50-billion "natural" foods market, an unregulated market with higher profit margins and lower barriers to entry, than there is in certified organics. That explains why these same multinational companies pitched in the other half of the $46 million to defeat Prop 37. After all, if passed, the initiative would have banned the use of the word "natural" on any product containing genetically modified foods. That would have forced companies to use more expensive, certified organic ingredients in their highly profitable "natural" products.
Estimates are that if Prop 37 had passed, it would have triggered a multi-billion dollar increase in the sales of organic and non-GMO foods, and a corresponding decrease in the sales of so-called "natural" foods. Could it be that Big Ag and Big Pharma, who supply the drugs for non-organic factory farms, are feeling threatened by the fact that the market for organics is growing ten times faster than the market for conventional foods? The bottom line is that the real 1%, America's giant food processors and supermarket chains, are alarmed by the fact that consumers are wising up -- and rising up -- in greater numbers than ever before to demand transparency in labeling, and greater access to organic, locally-sourced, humanely-produced, nutritious food.
In a struggling economy, the quickest way to grab the attention of consumers is to promise them short-term savings. Messages like the ones transmitted by the Stanford study and Dr. Oz's recent article grossly oversimplify the issue of organics versus conventional foods, while propping up an unsustainable but highly profitable factory farm and processed food industry. They miss the point, intentionally, that pesticides, drug residues, and filthy factory farms damage public health and raise U.S. medical costs, which are already the highest in the world.
But no matter how hard Big Ag and the mass media try to misinform consumers, they are fighting a losing battle. There is mounting scientific evidence that genetically engineered foods are hazardous to human and animal health, and are severely damaging the environment and the climate. This is the reason why millions of Americans are turning to certified organic food, which bans GMOs, synthetic pesticides, and animal drugs. The big lie is that cheap chemical and GMO food isn't really cheap, if you take the long view.
Shame on you Dr. Oz, and the rest of the mass media for perpetuating this big lie.
No matter how many universities pump out however many studies, no matter how many famous TV personalities -- including those wearing scrubs -- try to tell us otherwise, our current systems of food and agriculture are unsustainable. That's why the organic food and farming movement is growing by leaps and bounds. That's why organic foods and agriculture will soon become the norm, just as they once were for thousands of years, not just the alternative.
About the authors:
Katherine Paul is director of development and communications at the Organic Consumers Association.
Ronnie Cummins is founder and director of the Organic Consumers Association. Cummins is author of numerous articles and books, including "Genetically Engineered Food: A Self-Defense Guide for Consumers" (Second Revised Edition Marlowe & Company 2004).