By Jennie Schmidt: Sudlersville, Maryland
It’s time to pull back the curtain on Dr. Oz and expose him for the fearmonger that he is.
The daily television show of the man whose full name is Mehmet Oz has just begun its 10th season. “There’s so much to talk about!” shouted Oz at the start of the first episode, on September 17.
Then, in the opening segment, he made it sound like your bowl of breakfast cereal doubles as a toxic waste dump. “Weedkiller is getting into your food,” he warned.
Your cereal is safe. Don’t stop eating it because of what you may have heard from Oz. No, your favorite cereal won’t poison you.
I’m a farmer who uses crop protection products on our family’s fields in Maryland, a registered dietitian who studies healthy diets, and a mom who wants to put good food on our kitchen table. One thing I’ve learned is not to trust the wizardry of Oz.
Consider this fact: Fewer than half of the claims that Oz makes on his show are supported by scientific evidence. The rest are vague or unsubstantiated assertions, or actually contradicted by what serious research shows. That’s according to an investigation by the British Medical Journal.
Why do viewers put up with his hogwash? That’s hard to say, except to observe that Oz possesses a charismatic personality that oozes concern. Combined with his show’s theme of personal health, the mixture apparently makes for good television.
On his season-opening episode, Oz claimed that glyphosate, a widely-used herbicide used by farmers and gardeners, is corrupting what we eat—or, in his words, “a potentially carcinogenic chemical [is] making its way into your favorite foods.”
To build his case, Oz made a promise to viewers: “We’re taking you from fear to facts.”
For his “facts,” he turned to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), an activist organization that in August released a report on glyphosate levels in dozens of oat products, including cereal and granola bars—“levels higher than what EWG scientists consider protective of children’s health with an adequate margin of safety.”
The problem is that the EWG’s “facts” are all about fear. They were designed for the specific purpose of terrifying people into thinking that a conventional tool of agriculture is a cancer-causing menace.
To do this, the EWG leaned on the tried-and-true formula of “lies, damned lies, and statistics.”
It invented an arbitrary standard of safety—one that is so ridiculously strict that not a single regulatory agency anywhere in the world comes close to accepting it. This includes the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, European Food Safety Authority (which is stricter than the EPA), and California’s Office of Health Hazard Assessment (which is the strictest of all).
Several analysts have debunked the EWG’s bogus methods, including filmmaker Nick Saik in a compelling video and Washington Post writer Tamar Haspel, whose Twitter takedown of the EWG summed up the problem nicely: “They go rogue.”
She also wrote: “Glyphosate is everywhere, and I STRONGLY support a robust government program that regularly measures residues. But to date there is no evidence that residue levels are high enough to cause concern.”
I agree completely. In addition, EWG’s methodology wasn’t peer-reviewed nor did it have any outside researchers analyze their data or reproduce their findings – essential components to solid science. Not only does science support that eating whole grains provides a good source of dietary fiber and B vitamins, they also reduce the risk of some chronic diseases like colorectal cancer and heart disease.
For the EWG, the point of this deception is simple: It seeks to ignite a panic in consumers, tricking them into thinking that they’re eating carcinogens without realizing it—and thereby to assail the ethics of modern farming.
This kind of misinformation and fearmongering is just what the doctor ordered, at least when the doctor’s name is Oz: agenda-driven content that is sure to startle viewers and drive up ratings. In his strange world, the only thing we have to fear is not enough fear.
Moments into his show on weedkillers, Oz stuck a microphone into the face of a mother in his audience and asked if she was worried about poisoning her family with breakfast cereal. “I’m alarmed and confused,” she said. “I just want to make sure what I’m feeding my kids is safe.”
Who can blame her? That’s what I want to. We all want safe food. Your cereal is safe. Don’t fear your cereal.
Jennie Schmidt is a third-generation farmer growing grains, vegetables and wine grapes on a family farm on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. As a farmer, mom and registered dietitian, Jennie is passionate about connecting people with food and farming. Jennie volunteers as a member of the Global Farmer Network (www.globalfarmernetwork.org) where this column originates.