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Date:

August 8, 2000

Subject:

ABC TO CORRECT REPORT THAT CHALLENGED BENEFITS OF

 

Thanks to Rick Roush for posting the NYTimes article on ABC and John
Stossel. However, for those of us who question the journalistic objectivity
of the NYT, we have more evidence for their bias. The article is part of
the larger EWG effort to claim that the entire 20/20 program on organic
agriculture was in error when in fact the postings here make it clear that
Stossel would have been correct had he cited other studies rather than the
non-existent ABC directed study. Given the impression that is being
created, good jornalistic practice would have the Times contact Avery or
any other expert as to the overall accuracy of the report. It didn't and
therefore continues to serve as a propaganda outlet for the EWG and other
similarly oriented groups in spite of the fact that in so many other
areas, it does remain the "newspaper of record."

In addition, an entirely irrelevant note was added. In their effort to get
Stossel and any future reporter who might critisize them, EWG is reviving
the canard that "Stossel's report had inappropriately implied that ABC's
tests had detected dangerous strains of E. coli bacteria in the organic
food when, in fact, the tests did not establish the presence of the
dangerous type of E. coli." Thanks to Chuck Benbrook, I did go to their
EWG's web site and read the posted exerpt from the 20/20 where Stossel
refers simply to E coli, period. Notice the language used "inappropriately
implied." They don't dare say that he actually claimed it since that would
be an outright lie. Never mind, a lie is a lie is a lie. If you intend to
deceive then it is a lie. It has been my impression for several decades
that one tested for the benign form E coli in water or elsewhere because it
was an inexpensive and effective way of testing for fecal matter and any
other contaminants that would support more dangerous micro-organisms. Being
an economist, I checked with several water quality experts and my
impression was confirmed. Testing a small sample for the more lethal forms
of E coli would have been meaningless since even produce with very
dangerous levels of contamination, might have only a small percentage of it
bearing the lethal varieties and therefore a test could easily and honestly
select a sample that did not have them. Take a look at the very number of
people who have become seriously ill or died from a contamination of a
foodstuff in which a much larger number also ate and drank but suffered no
ill effects. What is important is the compartive contamination of the
benign variety if E coli between the two samples. I checked earlier with
Dennis Avery, he indicated the magnitude of difference was extremely high.
I prefer not to quote from memory as I hope that he will post the actual data.

My contention was and remains, that the real target of the EWG is not
Stossel but any future reporter who cares to write on this topic. Maybe the
Times was already predisposed to their positon, but article below shows
that the EWG will have a compliant media and if not, it will fight to
destroy anyone who opposes them. Maybe a few in this audience ought to
write to them. Kenneth Cook of EWG continues to damand that ABC fire
Stossel. We need to make it clear that if they do that or in anyway seek to
lower his voice or in any way censor what he has to say, that we will raise
unshirted hell with ABC, with Disney and with their advertisers.

Tom DeGregori

At 05:11 PM 8/9/00 +0930, you wrote:
>ABC TO CORRECT REPORT THAT CHALLENGED BENEFITS
>OF ORGANIC FOODS
>August 8, 2000
>N.Y. Times/AP
>http://www.nytimes.com/yr/mo/day/news/financial/abc-2020.html
>ABC News was cited as saying yesterday that a report challenging the assumed
>benefits of organic food was partly based on research that did not exist and
>that it would make a correction on Friday night's "20/20" program.
>
>In the report, the correspondent John Stossel said research commissioned by
>ABC News showed that conventional produce did not necessarily have more
>pesticide residue than did organic produce.
>
>"Our tests, surprisingly, found no pesticide residue on the conventional
>samples or the organic," he said in the report first broadcast on Feb. 8 and
>again on July 7.
>
>But the two researchers who were commissioned to do the testing -- Dr.
>Michael Doyle, a scientist with the University of Georgia, and Dr. Lester
>Crawford, director of the Center for Food and Nutrition Policy at
>Georgetown University -- said they had never tested produce for pesticide
>residue for ABC.
>
>In a statement released last night, ABC was cited as confirming that
>pesticide tests were never performed on produce. But it steered blame away
>from Mr. Stossel, adding, "In making that statement, Mr. Stossel was relying
>on inaccurate information that had been provided to him."
>
>Executives said David Fitzpatrick, producer of the segment, was responsible
>for the error, and they were trying to determine how it appeared. But, they
>said, they believed it was an honest mistake and did not think Mr.
>Fitzpatrick would be disciplined. Mr. Stossel will make the correction.
>
>The stories note that problems with the report were first brought to light
>by the members of the Environmental Working Group, which supports the
>consumption of organic food. They had learned that Mr. Stossel's assertion
>about the pesticide tests was in error after speaking with the researchers.
>They apprised Mr. Stossel of their findings in a letter dated Feb. 8. They
>were answered by Mr. Fitzpatrick, who, in a letter, asserted that ABC did,
>indeed, test produce for pesticide residue. After the report was rerun, Mr.
>Stossel re-emphasized the pesticide assertion in an on-the-air conversation
>with Cynthia McFadden, a "20/20" anchor.
>
>Executives at ABC, a unit of Walt Disney, said they were trying to determine
>why the group's assertion about the supposed pesticide tests was not
>properly addressed when it was first raised.
>
>The Environmental Working Group also contended that Mr. Stossel's report
>had inappropriately implied that ABC's tests had detected dangerous strains
>of E. coli bacteria in the organic food when, in fact, the tests did not
>establish the presence of the dangerous type of E. coli.
>
>Executives said they were still looking into that accusation.
>
>Kenneth Cook, president of the Environmental Working Group, was cited as
>saying that he was not satisfied with ABC's statement, stating, about
>Stossel, "He's not a contrarian, he's a counterfeiter who'll do anything for
>ratings. He needs to be fired."


Thomas R. DeGregori, Ph.D.
Professor of Economics
Department of Economics
University of Houston
Houston, Texas 77204-5882
Ph. 001 - 1 - 713 743-3838
Fax 001 - 1 - 713 743-3798
Email trdegreg@uh.edu
Web homepage http://www.uh.edu/~trdegreg