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ABC News: Anti-organic research did not exist - Stossel toapologize

August 8, 2000
N.Y. Times/AP
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
it would make a correction on Friday nightˆs "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.
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. Stosselˆs 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 groupˆs assertion about the supposed pesticide tests was not
addressed when it was first raised.
The Environmental Working Group also contended that Mr. Stosselˆs report
had inappropriately implied that ABCˆs 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 ABCˆs statement, stating, about
Stossel, "Heˆs not a contrarian, heˆs a counterfeiter whoˆll do anything for
ratings. He needs to be fired."

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