Arsenic in apple juice—the breaking news of the past week. Started by Dr. Mehmet Oz, on his popular television program, this controversy has either raised fear and doubt in the minds of parents that regularly give apple juice to their children, or fueled the fire of scoffers who do not really care. When I was asked to look into this matter and write a post on it, I have to admit that I was leaning toward the scoffer camp. But after serious investigation, I find myself taking a totally different stance—that of, “take it seriously, but don’t let it be your burden.” Let me explain.
I first thought it silly. I thought I knew that apple seeds naturally contain arsenic. My oldest son has eaten his apples, core and all, his entire life and he’s still kicking. “What’s the big deal?” I asked. Then after a little reading, I discovered that apples do not have arsenic in them, they have cyanide—an entirely different chemical. So, I kept digging; and here are the facts as I discovered them.
- Arsenic is a semi-metal element that occurs naturally in the earth’s crust. You can neither taste nor smell it. It is used as a wood preservative, and in the manufacture of paints, dyes, certain drugs, soaps, and some electronic parts. In these manufacturing processes, and in the mining industry, it is released into the environment. Also, as pertinent to this discussion, it has been used extensively as a pesticide from the 1860s. Found to be effective against the codling moth on apple trees, orchards continued its use in the United States until 1988.
- The EPA limit for concentrations of arsenic in drinking water is 10 parts per billion.
- In September, The Dr. Oz Show reported test results of 36 samples from 5 different brands of apple juice purchased in 3 different locations across the country. The independent lab testing these samples found that 10 had higher arsenic levels than allowed in drinking water—up to 23 parts per billion. Dr. Oz also disclosed that 60% of the apple concentrate used in the production of apple juice comes from China—a country that has not yet banned the use of lead-arsenic insecticides.
- The FDA currently allows 23 parts per billion of arsenic in apple juice. However, the agency has never seized apple juice that exceeded that level.
- The FDA criticized Dr. Oz’s lab results because they only report the total arsenic levels, not inorganic arsenic versus organic arsenic. Most scientists agree that inorganic arsenic is toxic and a known carcinogen while organic arsenic is “less toxic.” However, in an appearance on Good Morning America Dr. Oz stated, “(There is) a lot of debate over the safety of organic arsenic; and the body converts organic to some types of inorganic that are very toxic. It is misleading to claim that all organic arsenic is safe.”
- This past Wednesday National Public Radio reported that Consumers Union, publishers of Consumer Reports, tested 88 samples of popular juice brands purchased in grocery stores. Ten percent of the samples contained more than 10 ppb (the legal limit for drinking water). As a result of these tests, Consumers Union asks the FDA to adjust their current standard of 23 ppb to 3 ppb.
And that is where we, the consumers, are left. Waiting, wondering, “What is our government going to decide is best for us?” However, as I reported after watching the movie Food, Inc., our government is not the one I want making these decisions for my family. What does Dr. Oz recommend? He said that he would not quit giving his 4 children apple juice. He said that drinking a box of apple juice is not going to cause irreparable damage to a child. He is concerned with long-term effects. He is concerned for the children that drink large quantities of apple juice. He said, bottom line, “The FDA should not allow more arsenic in our apple juice than they allow in our drinking water.”
That leads me to my “totally different stance.” Even if apple juice had no harmful arsenic, should children be drinking large quantities of it? One mom commented on Dr. Oz’s website that her child drinks “vast amounts of the stuff.” But nutritionists recommend that babies under the age of 6 months have nothing but breast milk, and that older children have no more than 6 ounces of fruit juice a day. Why limit something that seems to be healthy? Fruit juices are high in sugar. In fact, both apple juice and Mountain Dew are 13% sugar. And in a country that predicts that one-third of the next generation will suffer with Type-2 diabetes, why would we want our children drinking 13% sugar all day long?
The decision is up to you. Trust the FDA, continue to allow your children to drink fruit juice all day long and not worry about cancer in their future. Or, as Dr. Oz and most nutritionists recommend, everything in moderation.