Return to Oz

Every so often, I take a break from entertaining #ScienceDog to address some breaking bullshit. For this extra edition of the Weekly Woo, Dr. Oz came out with a video a few days ago:

And furthermore, he released this list of questions and statements from the EPA:

One of these weeks, I wish these guys would just take the week off, stay off social media, and just tell their family this bullshit instead. Go small, like that sitting too close to the TV makes your eyes go bad or that unicorns are real. Can you do that next time, Dr. Oz? Buddy the #ScienceDog is counting on you.

This was his version of breaking news, with his statement, “I’m going to challenge the food industry, the chemical industry, and the government.”

Sorry, I was yawning. Allow me to chug this pumpkin spice latte to keep myself awake. Let’s hop into some pesticide science because, as has been established, this is my bread and butter.

Weeds and pests have long been the bane of farmers, and historically we’ve tried a lot of different things to fight them. Pre-synthetic pesticides, our options were limited. There were lot of pesticides that would still be considered ‘organic’ today because they weren’t synthesized in a lab. Sulfuric acid, cyanide, arsenic, pyrethrum, and tobacco were all used as ways to rid ourselves of bugs and weeds. Ounce per ounce? Many were more toxic than the synthetic pesticides. It’s a misconception that ‘organic’ food doesn’t use pesticides. Some may not, but most organic farmers use pesticides; they qualify as organic simply because the chemical structure of the pesticide hasn’t been altered in the lab. Rotenone and the pyrethrums? Highly toxic and completely ‘organic.’

The green revolution came and Norman Borlaug’s innovations in farming have been estimated to save well over a billion people from starvation. Genetic modifications have given us crops that are more resistant to environmental conditions, and the pesticides that we have now? Given that we’ve introduced regulations and safety testing, they are better for the environment than their ‘natural’ predecessors of cyanide and arsenic, and we use less pesticides per acre of farmland because we’ve come up with more efficient products. Less bugs and weeds lead to higher crop yields and lead to lower food prices, it’s good for farmers and great for consumers. Technology has been wonderful for everyone.

It’s been mentioned about forty-seven thousand times that the guiding principle of toxicology is that the dose makes the poison, and this is true with pesticides as well. We need to use pesticides that are toxic enough to kill the bugs and the weeds but that we can prove do not harm the humans, the target crops, and the environment.

The regulations have become more stringent over the years, and given this I would hope consumer confidence would be up. We’re not using cyanide or sulfuric acid anymore. We’re using products that we know the exact mechanism of action and we know exactly why, by the time it gets to market, people are safe.

It takes a very long time to get a new pesticide formulation to market. We have to prove that it hasn’t broken down into any harmful bi-products. The limits are measured in parts per billion- like I said, stringent. Sometimes multiple chemists run the exact same tests to show repeatability of the same safety testing.

I don’t buy organic. I have absolute confidence in my product.

These are things that the consumer never sees. These are things that Dr. Oz never sees.

A headline saying “big agro uses Agent Orange chemical” sells so many more papers than everything I just wrote, doesn’t it?

Now let’s look at a lot of the things that are oh so wrong with Dr. Oz’s claims…

  • Agent Orange was composed of two herbicides, 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T. We didn’t know it at the time, but 2,4,5-T exposed people to a chemical called dioxin. We now know that dioxin is responsible for the health effects that Agent Orange brought to the population. Remove 2,4,5-T from the equation? You remove the dioxin and there’s no problem. In fact, we’ve continued to use 2,4-D for decades safely. It’s like saying that because water is in liquid kitchen cleanser, that water is your kitchen cleanser. No. Just no.

  • Glyphosate is in Toxicity Category III according to the EPA. This means it’s “slightly toxic.” To give you an idea of what they also put into this class? If a solution is made up of a minimum of 4% alcohol, it also has to be put into Toxicity Category III. Water is in Toxicity Category IV (i.e. not toxic).

  • One of Dr. Oz’s questions is “Of the comments you received during the comment period, how many were for approval of Enlist Duo and how many were against?” We do not do science by committee. If they got letters from scientists saying that they conducted a research paper and it’s relevant to the safety of the pesticide, they absolutely would take that into account. If they get 20,000 letters from people saying “well the name sounds scary because I can’t pronounce it,” not to sound harsh, but learn to pronounce it.

  • He claims ‘the health of your brain can be the casualty.’ First, you are not a neurologist. Second, Dr. Oz, I implore you to please go to any of the pesticide manufacturers in the country. Please, visit Monsanto, Bayer, Syngenta, Dow, et al, and look to see if any of their researchers who are exposed to thousands of times the pesticides that the average person will ever see has any of the symptoms you are claiming could be linked to these pesticides. I guarantee you that if that had happened? It would have been in the papers by now.

  • The claim is made that thirty-five prominent doctors and scientists signed a letter opposing putting Enlist Duo onto the market. Where were they when both of these pesticides were already on the market for over four decades and it didn’t stand to make them a lot of money by appearing on your show?

  • There is an alleged increased risk for Alzheimers, non-Hodgkins Lymphoma, and Parkinsons disease linked to 2,4-D. Are there any published studies confirming a causal link or is this just a link like “somebody had a genetic link for this disease and they once ate a carrot with a pesticide on it?” It’s suspicious that Dr. Oz wouldn’t say that there was cause.

  • He brings out Zen Honeycutt to back him up. I’m sure she means well, but as far as I can see, she has zero expertise in this field. She “instinctively knew” that glyphosate had to do with her childrens’ health issues. I don’t mean to make light of her childrens’ health issues, it’s terrible to feel helpless while watching your children go through an illness (even as an adult, I got extremely sick when I was 26, I think it was harder for my Mom to watch me be sick than it was for me to go through it). I sympathize with someone who is confused and grasping for answers. But blaming something that has been proven, time and again, to be innocent? It lets the real culprit go free. Furthermore, there has never been solid proof that glyphosate performs all the harmful effects she claims.

Being sensationalist gets more people to tune into your show than telling them simple truths. Eat more vegetables and exercise more. Get a puppy and go to the beach, it’ll make you smile a lot. Processed food isn’t great for you because it’s calorically dense, but a cupcake once in a while won’t kill you.

Well that’s certainly not going to sell books, get ratings, or fill up an hour long talk show.

Dr. Oz, or as I like to call you, Mr. “I used to be a good cardiologist and now I play one on TV,” #ScienceDog is glaring at me now as I’ve taken up some time that would be better spent at Laguna Beach in the sand with him. Next week, if you really need to peddle bullshit, try just telling your kid that there’s a tooth fairy.

-Science Babe

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About SciBabe 79 Articles
Yvette d'Entremont, aka SciBabe, is a chemist and writer living in Los Angeles with her husband and their four pets. She bakes a mean gluten free chocolate chip cookie and likes glitter more than is considered healthy for a woman past the age of seven.


  1. No offense, but when you say DOW, all I can think of is Bhopal, and how many people were killed, how DOW has denied them any justice and cares so little for these people’s lives. Why would I trust them with my food?

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