Last week, the unscientific coalition that opposes safe genetically improved foods (GIFs) seemed to gain a much needed reputable ally in the Oprah-endorsed “America’s Doctor,” Dr. Mehmet Oz.
Unfortunately, whether the issue is agricultural technology or non-scientific “woo” treatments, Dr. Oz puts his training as a surgeon and scientist behind the need to win the daily ratings war.
Oz was once a man who relied on science and the scientific method to gain huge success and respect. But like so many before him, he eschewed scientific principles for the siren song of stardom. According to managing editor of the Science-Based Medicine blog Dr. David Gorski, “It’s hard not to liken this to the proverbial deal with the devil for his very soul.”
Dr. Mehmet Oz arrives at the Pinoy Relief Benefit Concert at Madison Square Garden on March 11, 2014 in New York City.
Credit: Brad Barket/Getty Images
Oz has gone from a vice-chair and professor of surgery at Columbia University to an “alternative medicine” shyster.
His denial of the scientific consensus behind GIFs is only the latest in a long line of pseudoscientific views Oz has taken in recent years. It started by promoting Ayurvedic medicine, mystics, and Reiki (the Japanese art of harnessing energy fields). But these are spirituality, not medicine.
Then came the more commercial enterprises: “Miracle” weight loss cures and “revolutionary breakthroughs” in a field whose advances can best be described as plodding. Dr. Oz has claimed mangosteen extract, green coffee beans, and red palm oil, for example, were the answers to a laundry list of ailments despite no reputable scientific studies to back them up. Alternative medicine expert Dr. Edzard Ernst claims, “Dr. Oz’s promotion of this and other unproven or disproven alternative treatments is irresponsible and borders on quackery.”
But the last straw for the respectable scientific community came when Oz shared his bully pulpit, loyally watched by four million Americans, with osteopathic doctor Joseph Mercola and lionized his quackery.
People hold signs during a demonstration against agribusiness giant Monsanto and genetically modified organisms (GMO) in front of the White House in Washington on May 25, 2013. Credit: AFP/Getty Images
Mercola is a star in the “alternative health” scene and has been criticized by the FDA, the medical watchdog site Quackwatch, and numerous respected doctors. He has made copious wild and dangerous suggestions such as: Vaccines are dangerous, HIV does not cause AIDS, and that cancer is a fungus that can be cured by baking soda injections. (Seriously. No joke.) Oz describes Mercola favorably as “a man your doctor doesn’t want you to know” – an attack to which any science-based M.D. would surely reply, “For good reason!”
And now Oz is going after genetically improved foods. Among a barrage of misinformation, he incorrectly stated that GIFs require more pesticides than conventional crops. Calling for mandatory labeling, he said that opposition may be “a global conspiracy to keep you from knowing if you’re eating genetically modified foods.” He showcased “world expert” on GIFs Scott Faber from the discredited Environmental Working Group, an organization whose sole purpose seems to be to fulfill a monthly quota of unscientific scare campaigns.
This photo taken Oct. 16, 2013 shows corn harvested and dumped into a waiting truck on Larry Hasheider's farm in Okawville, Ill. Hasheider grows soybeans, wheat and alfalfa on the farm, nestled in the heart of Illinois corn country where he also has 130 dairy cows, 500 beef cattle and 30,000 hogs and even gives tours, something he says he never would have done 20 years ago. Add one more item to the list of chores that Larry Hasheider has to do on his 1,700-acre farm: defending his business to the American public. There's a lot of conversation about traditional agriculture recently, and much of it is critical. Among the issues people are concerned about: genetically modified crops, overuse of hormones and antibiotics, inhumane treatment of animals and whether the government subsidizes unhealthy foods. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
What neither Oz nor Faber said was that the scientific community is united in its consensus regarding the safety of GIFs. The premier scientific body in the U.S., the National Academy of Sciences, calls them safe, noting that after billions of meals served, “no adverse health effects attributed to genetic engineering have been documented in the human population.”
It also finds GIFs to be better for the environment, noting that such crops have reduced insecticide use, reduced use of the most dangerous herbicides, increased frequency of conservation tillage and no-till farming, reduced carbon emissions, reduced soil runoffs, and improved soil quality.
And regarding labeling? Opposition to labeling is largely centered on the unintended consequences that come from such unnecessary mandates. For example, vice provost and dean of the University of Arizona College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Dr. Shane Burgess explains that the costs of labeling will be transferred to consumers raising their food costs: “The biggest losers of all will be our most vulnerable – those 15.9 million children in the 14.5 percent of U.S. households that battle food insecurity daily.”
Oz’s opposition to GIFs may have carried some weight years ago when he was a respected doctor and scientist. But now, it is just the latest example of junk-science in an alarmist and agenda-driven campaign for Nielsen’s sake.
Will Coggin is a senior research analyst at the Center for Consumer Freedom.
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