By: Jana Kasperkevic

Dr Oz is aiming to give his critics a dose of their own medicine on Thursday. On his controversial daytime show the TV doctor will call out the 10 physicians who recently lobbied Columbia University to sever its ties with him.

In the latest of a series of attacks on “America’s doctor”, a group of medics contacted Columbia last week and said that Mehmet Oz, vice-chairman of Columbia’s surgery department, had shown “an egregious lack of integrity by promoting quack treatments and cures in the interest of personal financial gain”.

“Dr Oz has repeatedly shown disdain for science and for evidence-based medicine, as well as baseless and relentless opposition to the genetic engineering of food crops,” the doctors said in their letter.

Oz has said he will address their criticisms, question their credibility and expose their connections to the genetically modified organisms (GMO) industry.

“I know I’ve irritated some potential allies in our quest to make America healthy. No matter our disagreements, freedom of speech is the most fundamental right we have as Americans. And these 10 doctors are trying to silence that right,” Oz said in a preview clip.

In response to the letter’s authors, Columbia University said it is “committed to the principle of academic freedom and to upholding faculty members’ freedom of expression for statements they make in public discussion”. The university was not involved in planning or taping Thursday’s show.

Having previously been rebuked by the FDA for his report on arsenic in apple juice and questioned by the US Senate for describing untested weight-loss supplements as magic, Oz is no stranger to criticism. This latest attack seems to have been inspired by a less controversial issue, namely Oz’s stance on GMOs and their labelling.

Meet the critics

Henry Miller, the lead author of the letter, has long been an advocate of GMOs. Miller is currently a fellow at the Hoover Institute at Stanford University. He has previously served as FDA drug regulator. In a tagline of his Forbes contributor blog, he describes its purpose asdebunking “junk science and flawed public policy”. Those Miller has debunked include other proponents of the GMO labeling such as Mark Bittman, columnist for the New York Times. In the column on Bittman’s stance on GMOs, Miller quoted Glenn Swogger who is also a proponent of GMOs and has signed off on the letter sent to Columbia.

Both Miller and Swogger have previously been associated with the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH), a nonprofit advocacy organization. The ACSH has been known to advocate on behalf of issues like GMOs and fracking. While neither belongs to ACSH at the moment, two other doctors who have signed the letter, Gilbert Ross and Jack Fisher, do. According to the letter, Ross is currently the acting president and executive director of the ACSH. Fisher belongs to the ACSH board of directors.

While the ACSH supports the sentiments expressed in the letter, the organization did not play a role in its drafting, Erik Lief, ACSH communications director, told the Guardian.

“Bear in mind that there are 10 people listed on this letter and all Dr Ross did was support the fact that Dr Oz has been known – and it has been documented – that he dispenses questionable medical advice on TV,” said Lief.

ACSH’s donors include Monsanto, according to a Mother Jones report. Lief told the Guardian that the organization does not disclose who it deals with and who its supporters are.

“We do routinely support groups working to advance science and agriculture,” a Monsanto spokeswoman told the Guardian. “For example, over the years we have provided modest grants to the American Council on Science and Health to sponsor specific projects such as the recent GMO publications that were prepared and edited by recognized subject experts.”

Ross himself isn’t without controversy, having previously served all of 1996 in a federal prison camp for participating in a Medicaid scam.

“Given the mistake I made more than 20 years ago, I now recognize that I should not have added my name to Dr Henry Miller’s letter,” Ross said in a statement sent to the Guardian.

“Even though I believed in the letter’s content – to focus attention on the often-questionable medical advice Dr Oz dispenses on TV – I see that by doing so it only opened me up to personal criticism. It also diverted necessary attention away from challenging many of Dr Oz’s unscientific claims. My involvement was solely based on trying to protect America’s public health.”

The doctors who signed the letter were not invited to the taping of the show, Lief said.

Miller did not respond to a request for comment.

‘Are you a doctor or an old west traveling salesman?’

This is not the first time that Oz has been forced to address his critics. In June 2014, he testified to the US Senate about instances when he had referred to untested weight-loss supplements as magical or miraculous. The testimony attracted significant coverage, including a segment on Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.

“Miracle flowers? Are you a doctor or an old west traveling salesman?” Oliver asked.

During his Senate testimony, Oz said he personally believes in items featured on the show even if they don’t alway pass scientific muster. That didn’t sit well with Oliver, who said: “That’s the whole point, you’re presenting it as a doctor. If you want to keep spouting this bullshit, that’s fine, but don’t call your show ‘Dr Oz’. Call it: ‘Check this shit out with some guy named Mehmet’.”

An analysis of 40 random episodes of Dr Oz by The BMJ, formerly known as theBritish Medical Journal, revealed that recommendations were supported by evidence only 46% of the time. About 15% of the time, evidence contradicted recommendations featured on the show. For the remaining 39%, evidence was not found.

GMO labeling: controversial or not?

More recently, Oz has come out in support of labeling genetically modified foods, triggering a new wave of criticism.

At the beginning of April, Scott Faber, vice-president of government affairs for Environmental Working Group, appeared on the show to discuss a new report by the World Health Organization (WHO) that found that Roundup “probably” causes cancer. While on air Faber went on to say that the Monsanto-produced weedkiller has “exploded in use as more and more farmers have used GMO corn and GMO soybeans”. On the show’s website, the clip was accompanied by a written commentary from Faber calling for GMO labeling. Faber is also the executive director of Just Label It, an organization that advocated for mandatory FDA labeling of GMOs.

Monsanto decided not send a representative to participate on the show and instead issued a statement noting that it disagreed with the WHO’s report. The company welcomes dialogue and invites questions on these important issues, according to a Monsanto spokesperson.

Earlier this month, Miller, who is the lead author of the letter, also criticized Oz for a segment on genetically modified apples.

Some of Oz’s supporters suspect that it was these segments that prompted the 10 doctors to write their letter to Columbia. Miller declined to comment on that allegation.

“Monsanto did not have anything to do with the letter regarding Dr Oz and we were not involved in any outreach to Columbia University,” the company spokeswoman told the Guardian. “In fact, we have a long-standing commitment to academic freedom and independent thought.”

Calling for GMO labels is not a controversial stance, Christopher Miller, social mission activism manager at Ben and Jerry’s, told the Guardian.

“Public opinion polls find that upwards of 90% of Americans support mandatory labeling. Sixty-four other countries around the world require GMO foods to be labeled. It’s not complicated or controversial,” he said.

Ben and Jerry’s has been advocating for GMO labeling since 2013, mainly because the company is concerned that “increasing GMO crops comes at the expense of smaller farms and what we believe is a more sustainable kind of farming”.

Despite the letter, Oz says he is not backing down. He is not cutting ties with Columbia University – or it with him. And he will continue to support GMO labeling. That’s the main message of Thursday’s show.

“I vow to you right here and right now: we will not be silenced, we will not give in,” Oz said to the camera in a preview clips of Thursday’s episode. Oz will follow up his defense with a Friday interview on NBC’s Today show.

Originally Published: The Guardian