20/20: Stossel Apology for Organic Food Report

ByABC News
January 27, 2005, 4:21 PM

Aug. 11 -- EDITORS NOTE: ABCNEWS correspondent John Stossel in February presented a report on organic produce. Here, he offers a correction and an apology:

In February on this program I did a report on organic produce. I said, in essence, why buy it when it costs so much more? I interviewed a critic who questioned some of the widely assumed advantages of organic produce that its more nutritious or safer.

I reported on tests, commissioned by 20/20, that found bacterial contamination, including E. coli, on some samples of both organic and non-organic produce. The Organic Trade Assn. and Washingtons Environmental Working Group wrote us complaining the E. coli test our experts used was the wrong test because it tests for all kinds of E. coli, not just the kinds that can make you sick. Well, its true that this test was for all kinds of E. coli.

But government and other experts we spoke to confirm that this is a standard test for contamination of food, because the presence of E. coli on produce is an indicator for fecal contamination, and fecal contamination means the product may contain various kinds of bacteria that could make you sick.

Safe Choice

The Organic Trade Association also wrote us that certified organic food is a safe choice in the marketplace.

I want to make it clear that I agree. Americas food supply conventional and organic is remarkably safe; bacteria can be a risk though in both organic and conventional produce so we should wash all produce before we eat it.

I have also been criticized for not including in our report the results of some tests we did on chicken.

For the record, heres what those tests found: no bacterial contamination on either conventional or organic chickens. Six chickens were tested for pesticides. Two were organic, and had no pesticides. Some of the conventional chickens had what the expert who did the test called trace amounts of pestcides, which he said were too small to be of any public health significance.