In an unusual rebuttal to a popular TV doctor, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration Wednesday took on Dr. Mehmet Oz over arsenic in apple juice.

Just not face to face.


A few hours before The Dr. Oz Show aired to an afternoon audience, the FDA released copies of correspondence it had sent to the show’s producers, and posted several information pieces online (one is reposted on this site), all disputing the show’s conclusions about the safety of most commercial brand apple juice.

But agency officials declined Dr. Oz’s invitation to answer questions before a studio audience, and the doctor capitalized on their absence in making his points to angry parents.

Arsenic and apple juice has been a hot topic for some time.

Last year, Florida’s St. Petersburg Times reported that it found arsenic amounts in Motts, Apple & Eve Organics, Walmart’s Great Value, Nestle’s Juicy Juice, Minute Maid, Tree Top, and Target’s Market Pantry exceeding the limit set by the Environmental Protection Agency for public drinking water: 10 parts per billion (ppb).

In July, the advocacy group Food & Water Watch weighed in, releasing results of tests it commissioned that showed Mott’s Apple Juice with arsenic levels of 55 parts per billion. The group said more than 70 percent of apple juice consumed in the U.S. comes from China, and countries like Argentina, and that arsenic-based pesticides were to blame. Food & Water Watch called on the FDA to set tolerance levels for arsenic and other heavy metals in foods.

On Wednesday’s Dr. Oz Show, test results were shown for samples of five different brands of commercial apple juice; Dr. Oz said 10 samples out of the dozens tested had come back with higher levels of arsenic than allowed in drinking water:

Minute Maid Apple Juice

Lowest Sample for Arsenic: 2 parts per billion

Highest Sample for Arsenic: 3 parts per billion

Apple and Eve Apple Juice

Lowest Sample for Arsenic: 3 parts per billion

Highest Sample for Arsenic: 11 parts per billion


Lowest Sample for Arsenic: 4 parts per billion

Highest Sample for Arsenic: 16 parts per billion

Juicy Juice

Lowest Sample for Arsenic: 2 parts per billion

Highest Sample for Arsenic: 22 parts per billion


Lowest Sample for Arsenic: 3 parts per billion

Highest Sample for Arsenic: 36 parts per billion

Dr. Oz said none of the organic apple juice tested by his commissioned lab contained arsenic. He urged viewers to check juice boxes for country of origin and to “vote with our pocketbooks,” forcing change at the cash register by rejecting imported apple juice.

While the FDA was subjected to some harsh criticism (“government needs to step in and draw a line”), a guest pointed out that more oversight requires a bigger budget (“we need to fund them better so they can do a better job of protecting us”).

In its letter to show’s producers, the FDA disputed in particular the validity of the Gerber test results, saying it analyzed the same batch of juice and found arsenic levels ranging from 2 to 6 ppb. The agency added that “the vast majority of apple juice samples tested by the FDA over that past 20 years show that apple juice typically contains less than 10 ppb total arsenic.”

Moreover, the FDA said the Dr. Oz Show tests did not distinguish between essentially harmless organic forms of arsenic, and harmful inorganic forms of arsenic.

“It is inappropriate to draw conclusions about the safety of a food based on the total arsenic level since in most instances organic arsenic, which again is essentially harmless and not absorbed by the body, makes up the bulk of the total arsenic in foods like juice,” wrote the FDA’s Donald Zink, senior science advisor, Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition.

One of Dr. Oz’s guest experts noted that the amount of arsenic in a single box of apple juice should pose no hazard to a child’s health, and Dr. Oz said the problem is “chronic toxicity.”

But others who have tried to quantify the long-term risk to children from the arsenic naturally found in drinking water  — at the levels set by the EPA —  have said the danger is actually quite low. One University of Washington pediatric environmental health specialist estimated that if 1 million children, each day for five years, each drank one liter of water with arsenic slightly above the federal standards of 10 ppb, about 10 to 30 more cancers of the bladder or lungs would result.

Dr. Oz would likely not be impressed by such a calculation. He said that, in his opinion, there should be no allowable amount of arsenic in apple juice consumed by children.

What he did not say on air — although his website mentions it — is that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that fruit juice should not be given to children until they are six months old, and then no more than 6 ounces a day until they’re 6. The pediatricians say children should be encouraged to eat apples rather than drink apple juice, and not because of arsenic fears.

Juice lacks the fiber and other nutrients available in whole fruit. Too much juice can lead to weight problems and tooth cavities; water is a better beverage for kids.  But water, of course, also contains trace levels of arsenic.