Letter to Dr. Oz Show Producers by Bruce Chassy, PhD

5 October 2012

Greg Tufaro, producer
Brook Jacobsen, producer
Dr. Oz Show
Zoco Productions, LLC/ Harpo Studios
110 N. Carpenter Street
Chicago, IL 60607

Dear Greg and Brook:

I am following up on my conversations and previous correspondence with you regarding the plans by the Dr. Oz Show to air health and safety claims by Jeffrey Smith about agricultural biotechnology (GMOs) and food issues. As discussed, I was unable to participate in your program due to a family conflict. After consulting with other colleagues who were similarly approached by you and those who did participate, however, I am compelled to again voice my concerns regarding the potential violation by Dr. Oz of medical ethics and high risk of misrepresentation of human health information by Dr. Oz, Zoco Productions and Oprah Winfrey’s Harpo Studios on this issue.

As a public sector scientist, researcher and academic administrator with more than 40 years experience, I am appalled that any medical professional would give a platform to the likes of Mr. Jeffrey Smith to impart health information to the public. Mr. Smith has no accredited or formal education in any health, nutrition, or other related science fields. Research into Mr. Smith’s credentials reveals that his only professional experience prior to taking up his crusade against biotechnology is as a ballroom dance teacher, yogic flying instructor and political candidate for the Maharishi cult’s natural law party. The fact that Mr. Smith was even allowed to appear on stage on a nationally broadcast television health-oriented program is hard to believe; hearing from my colleagues who did participate that Dr. Oz referred to Smith as a “scientist” during the program taping is an egregious misrepresentation.

Simply put, Mr. Smith’s health, environmental and safety claims about biotechnology have no basis whatsoever in medicine or science. Thousands of published and peer reviewed studies conducted over the past thirty-plus years contradict his claims and bizarre hypotheses associating health dangers linked to foods derived using biotechnology production methods. This is corroborated by such respected scientific and medical authorities as the American Medical Association, World Health Organization with the Food & Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Institute for Food Technologists and the American Dietetic Association. Regulatory bodies including the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and Food Safety Commission of Japan (FSCJ) all confirm this safety.

Further, our correspondence and conversations, as well as those you had with other academic colleagues who were invited to participate, suggests you engaged in questionable and misleading tactics to secure our participation on your show. When we raised concerns about past treatment of academic participants discussing biotechnology on the Dr. Oz show, you stated “I understand the suspicion and the reservations any scientist would have after the last go-round. My best assurance can only come from the fact that producing a show in that vein isn’t something I agree with at all. That producer is no longer with us. I’m not into producing surprises or blindsiding anybody…” Yet, neither you nor Ms. Jacobsen disclosed that Lisa Oz, the show’s co-producer and wife of Dr. Oz, was the narrator for Mr. Smith’s video attacking biotechnology and an active campaigner for the Proposition 37 efforts in California.

As to you assurances that there would be no surprises or “bait-and-switch” tactics involved, I was informed that “deals were cut” between Dr. Oz and other participants like Organic Valley CEO Gary Hirshberg to prevent the scientists from fully participating in the program. These back-room deals caused changes to the described format for the interviews as laid out by you in advance of the program. Yet, apparently Mr. Hirshberg objected to appearing side-by-side with actual scientists as he made his claims but was allowed to remain on stage while they made their rebuttals. Further, Dr. Oz allowed Mr. Smith to re-tape his segment after the scientists spoke in response to his segment’s initial taping and after they had left the program.

You assured me and the other invited participants that the show was interested in a fair hearing of views from all sides with no pre-judged conclusions. Yet, I also learned that Dr. Oz practiced a pre-scripted conclusion to the program warning viewers to avoid the risks of GMOs by purchasing only organic foods prior to interviewing the scientists and hearing both sides. Similarly, during the taping of the Dr. Oz Show you incorporated graphics provided by Jeffrey Smith implying correlated health risks with the use of biotechnology crops that are simply not based in any medical science or study. These graphics are crude and inaccurate representation which will mislead people to believe biotechnology crops are associated with these diseases – the very same representation could be done showing, for example, that as viewership for the Dr. Oz show rose so did incidents of these diseases, suggesting watching your show is a health risk. Neither is of course true. Biotechnology crops are as safe, if not safer, than their conventional and organic counterparts.

All of this would lead any reasonable person to believe your representations were disingenuous and that this show was orchestrated theater on behalf of Mr. Smith and the Proposition 37 campaign. Since Mr. Smith and his collaborator, Dr. Oz show co-producer Lisa Oz, are active proponents behind the Proposition 37 California Ballot Initiative, the program you intend to air on the Fox network prior to the November 6, 2012 election appears by all manners to be an orchestrated and essentially in-kind donation of a free campaign commercial for this initiative. Worse, Dr. Oz will be amplifying thoroughly debunked and potentially dangerous nutrition and health-related advice to his viewing audience.

Your assurances and the tactics of the Dr. Oz show fall short of even the lowest standards of media and medical ethics.

Sincerely,

Bruce Chassy, PhD
Professor Emeritus, Department of Food Science & Nutrition
University of Illinois

CC:

Bill Becker, General Counsel
Harpo Studios
110 N. Carpenter St.
Chicago, IL 60607

Michael Angus, Executive Vice President & General Counsel
Fox Broadcasting
2121 Avenue of the Stars
Los Angeles, CA 90067
Zackery P. Morazzini, General Counsel
California Fair Political Practices Commission
428 J Street, Suite 620
Sacramento, CA 95814

Gary Schwitzer, Publisher Health News Review
The California Endowment Health Journalism Fellowships
USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism
The Alhambra, 1000 South Fremont Avenue, Unit 83, Building A-0, Office 0204
Alhambra, CA 91803Bruce M. Chassy, PhD

Filed Under: News

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Comments (16)

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  1. sharon Brown says:

    Thank you.

  2. Melanie Fritsche says:

    A HUGE thank you for speaking up and speaking out about the practices that Dr. Oz has exhibited on his show since he was spun off by Oprah. More true scientists, dieticians/nutritionist, and medical professionals that are properly accredited need to speak up and shed light on this kind of use of a public platform to allow fake experts spit false information. I too question his medical ethics on espousing a “lifestyle choice” of being a vegetarian/vegan to his cardiac patients and audience without any other balance or alternatives mentioned. In reality I feel he has run out of true medical topics from balanced and creditable sources for episodes so he is now grasping by giving a “political” platform to people like Jeffery Smith with out balance and ethics as a quasi-journalist. Keep defending your science and fellow researchers in putting out the truth about Ag Biotechnology.

  3. Tamara Nelsen says:

    Thank you Dr. Chassy! It will take all of us to get Dr. Oz and other “posers” off of the national stage on this and many many other issues. What Dr. Chassy didn’t know is that Dr. Oz’ show also contacted a farmer in Iowa to come on the show and talk about his experiences growing biotech crops. After a month of preparation, Dr. Oz’ producer called the farmer back to say that the show wasn’t going to need him as they “had another farmer instead”. The farmer they picked instead was the organic producer. Hello? Organic production doesn’t use biotechnology (technically) actually, they’ve used the BT technology for years, they just don’t talk about it. Wise up America! Way to go Dr. Chassy!

  4. It always sickens me when a doctor succumbs to this kind of fame…and I think that Oprah is also culpable along with all of her staff in duping people into following Dr. Oz like he is a expert in everything.
    Dr. Oz is crossing a line here where he should probably give up his license to practice medicine like Dr. Phil who does not practice as a psychologist any longer. He just should be a celebrity like Jenny McCarthy, who did so much damage proclaiming to know the possible causes of autism because she herself has an autistic son.
    It is time that Hollywood…Oprah included start to leave medicine to medicine. Dr Oz can then use the words “I am not a doctor although I “play” one on TV” to promote his bogus programming.

  5. James Fell says:

    Thank you so much for this brilliant piece. Reminds me of when I wrote an open letter to Oprah for the LA Times: www.latimes.com/health/la-he-fitness-oprah-20101122,0,7511234.story

  6. Lisa Smartt says:

    SO glad to read this letter! It’s written with such intelligence and common sense. Every crop is genetically modified to some degree. There is no such thing as “wild corn.” Political scare tactics and the practice of medicine should never go together.

  7. Joanne Lupton says:

    Dr. Chassy:
    Thank you so much for taking the time to write such an important and excellent letter. Science needs more people like you.

  8. Christine Bruhn says:

    Right on, Bruce! Thank you for sharing your comments which I will forward to others.

  9. Thank you for this. This is consistent with my own opinion, expressed not that long ago on my cancer research blog, that Dr. Oz is a celebrity run amok. Feel free to read more about why Dr Oz should not be dispensing his folksy brand of non-medicine. He has become, put bluntly, nothing more than a quack.

    www.michaelwosnick.com/dr-oz-a-case-of-celebrity-run-amok/

    • Len Napoli says:

      Celebrity status and market-driven goals can easily breed falsehoods. I commend Dr. Chassy on his comments. In a similar vein, I encountered a lively discussion on CNN featuring two “economists” on the positives and negatives of governmental spending. The problem, upon researching the background of the combatants, was that one was a PhD in Economics at a Maryland University and the other a Bachelor of Arts in an unrelated discipline. Very sad.

  10. Dr. Mom says:

    This is bloody brilliant!

  11. Josephine Trott, PhD says:

    Well said Bruce. I heartily agree.

  12. Excellent letter, Bruce, and please add my name. Klaus Ammann, University of Bern

  13. [...] of Dr. Oz? I hope not. Think the show tells stories honestly? Read on: Letter to Dr. Oz Show Producers by Bruce Chassy, PhD. Via [...]

  14. Martina Newell-McGloughlin says:

    As a participant on the recent GMO edition of Dr Oz I was disturbed at the lack of objectivity and the clear bias in the final format that aired. When we agreed to participate our understanding was that that participants would be provided with equal opportunity to present their position yet the final time allocation and editing was clearly designed to negate the science and present anecdotal “evidence” as equally valid to the peer-reviewed scientific data.

    It was disappointing that my refutation of many of the points made by Smith were edited out giving the appearance that his outrageous statements went unchallenged. For example I queried their ex post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy suggesting a correlation between the commercialization of biotech crops and the increase in various gastrointestinal ailments such ulcerative colitis and irritable bowel syndrome. Determining cause and effect after the fact is utter nonsense as you could use any random variable as the comparator for example the proliferation of cell phones towers and organic consumption also increased over the noted time period which for some unstated reason ended in 2004. It is more likely that there was an increase in reporting or diagnosis which accounted for the increase in incidence which, coincidentally, was also increasing before the approval of biotech crops. Their comment that the incident decreased when they removed the GM products is likewise without merit. They provided zero context for this assertion for example who were the subjects and what was the size of the study, what was the background of and how many were the controls – what other variables had been changed and most importantly where was the peer reviewed data supporting their conclusions? I pointed out that where we actually had peer reviewed data was from the over four hundred peer reviewed publications confirming the safety of these crops and crop products. Biotech crops are more thoroughly assessed than any in the history of plant breeding and food safety. All biotech products must go through a rigorous safety assessment both in the US and the EU. For the latter this is overseen by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). Specifically these products are tested to ensure they are as safe as conventional crops, and have similar nutritional and compositional content.

    In 2000 and 2010, the European Commission released two reports that cover 25 years of research on GM crops or food on human health or the environment: “A decade of EU-funded GMO research (2001-2010)” and “EC-Sponsored research on the safety of genetically modified organisms (1985-2000).” Both concluded that the use of a more precise technology and the greater regulatory scrutiny probably make biotech crops even safer than conventional plants and foods. The more recent was a compendium of 50 research projects on the safety of GMOs over the last decade. The Commission funded research from 130 research projects involving 500 independent research groups over 25 years, concluding that “There is, as of today, no scientific evidence associating GMOs with higher risks for the environment or for food and feed safety than conventional plants and organisms.”

    In Europe, tens of millions of livestock, including chickens, pigs and cows are fed with GM soybeans mostly imported from Brazil and Argentina. With the current regulatory environment and monitoring by veterinary authorities, any health impacts related to the consumption of GM crops should have been reported if there were any safety concerns. This has not been the case for the almost two decades since biotech products were first approved by the EU. An estimated 2 trillion meals containing GM ingredients have been eaten around the world over the last 13 years without a single substantiated case of ill-health. The World Health Organization has said that: ‘No effects on human health have been shown as a result of the consumption of such foods by the general population in the countries where they have been approved’. The French Academies of Medicine, Pharmacy and Sciences have stated: “No evidence of health problems exists in the countries where GMOs have been widely eaten for several years,” an opinion endorsed by academies of science, medical councils and regulatory agencies around the world.
    The other item for which my challenge was truncated was the Seralini study. This study is without scientific merit. Contrary to what they claim, this study is not the first to have evaluated the long-term health effects of GMOs. These studies have been carried-out using rats but also other animals by scientific researchers from all parts of the world. No unexpected adverse effect has been reported. If this was the case, International, European and national food safety agencies would have taken the appropriate measures. The only outcome they do demonstrate is that old (2yrs) Sprague-Dawley rats are susceptible to developing tumors spontaneously. Dr. Bernhoft asserts that this occurs in only 15-20% in fact numerous studies indicate that this occurs in greater than 80% for female Sprague-Dawley rats which correlates well with the observations in the Seralini paper. In addition this study group is too small to demonstrate statistical significance and the statistical tools that they do apply are contrived to say the least. In this study 25% of the controls also got tumors and the test subjects were cherry picked for visual impact – there were 9X test subjects to controls across all “studies”- sheer numbers alone would suggest a higher observable incidence in the test subjects. Interestingly, they achieved identical results with glyphosate as with GM corn and there was no observable dosage response and no hypothesis was put forward as to the mechanism of action for this observation. Of course a cursory review would support the obvious interpretation that old, especially female, Sprague-Dawley rats are susceptible to developing tumors! Many long term studies have been conducted with the herbicide glyphosate and none demonstrate any evidence of carcinogenic effects. The EPSPS enzyme which confers resistance to glyphosate is present in all plants as well as in the bacteria found in human and animal gut flora. It is a readily digestible protein not known to have any adverse effect on any species. The fundamental experimental flaw clearly lies with the test strain of rat in which the incidence of tumors reported over many studies and years is the same as that reported in the Seralini paper – this study does not provide any greater evidence of statistical significance of tumor development above random occurrence for this strain of rats.
    In the past, EFSA has found Seralini’s scientific findings to be without merit. EFSA had examined a previous animal feeding study paper by Séralini et al. and found that “Following a detailed statistical review and analysis by an EFSA Task Force, EFSA’s GMO Panel has concluded that this re-analysis of the data does not raise any new safety concerns.” And that “The statistical analysis made by the authors of the paper did not take into account certain important statistical considerations. The assumptions underlying the statistical methodology employed by the authors led to misleading results (a simple standard deviation should be sufficient to determine significance). EFSA considers that the paper does not present a sound scientific justification in order to question the safety of MON 863 maize.”

    Bottom line, despite over 400 studies in the peer-reviewed scientific literature, and substantial experience with humans and animals around the world consuming biotech cops for over 16 years there has not been a single substantiated case of negative outcomes or a single documented health problem. The problem here appears to be with the experimental design whether deliberately devised to attain the desired outcome remains to be seen.

    In sum, I consider that the program’s intent and staging was designed to present a one sided and scientifically unsupported view of the issues.

  15. Elizabeth Vancil says:

    This is a wonderful and honest letter. I didn’t see the show, but I have heard about it from many friends whose opinions were changed do to the deceit of Dr. Oz. I appreciate your rebuttal and will post it on my own social media connections to get the word out. I hope all of you will do the same through your personal and professional (i.e. University) communications channels. Thank you, Elizabeth

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