The lawsuit filed in Georgia by the trade group that represents the largest American importers and bottlers that challenged television’s Dr. Oz on what it called “false attacks” that singled out imported olive oils, has been dismissed, the show said today.
We’re disappointed with the judge’s decision which was not based on the underlying merits of our case but on technicalities.
Oz was sued by the North American Olive Oil Association (NAOOA) for claiming during a show that aired last May that 80 percent of the extra virgin olive oil sold in U. S. supermarkets isn’t “real.”
The NAOOA claimed that the incidence of mislabeling is much lower and argued in court that it was only 2 percent.
Fulton County Superior Court (Georgia) judge Alford J. Dempsey, Jr. said that the Court was “not convinced” that the show disparaged imported olive oil or falsely labeled it a “health hazard” as the suit alleged.
“Dr. Oz goes so far as to encourage his audience members to sample some of the olive oils being taste-tested on the show, which the Court must presume he would not do if the gist of the show was that the olive oils on American shelves were a health hazard,” the judge said.
Dempsey further determined that the NAOOA did not establish a case under the Georgia law popularly known as a Veggie Libel Statute. This is the same type of law that some cattle feeders in Texas unsuccessfully used as the basis of a lawsuit against Oprah Winfrey nearly 20 years ago.
Judge Dempsey expressed “grave concerns that the motivation for the present action falls directly within the purpose of the anti-SLAPP statute as an attempt to chill speech, in this case, in the competitive marketplace,” according to a press release issued by Oz.
“We’re disappointed with the judge’s decision which was not based on the underlying merits of our case but on technicalities in the Georgia anti-SLAPP statute which protect media defendants,” Eryn Balch, executive vice president of the NAOOA told Olive Oil Times today in response to the decision.
“Nothing in the decision lends credence to the unsubstantiated attacks on olive oil made on The Dr. Oz segment and we are evaluating our options for appeal. Our goal was and remains to help consumers get the facts about heart-healthy olive oil, and we will continue to explore every means at our disposal to correct the record,” Balch said.
“For 25 years the NAOOA has used independent International Olive Council (IOC) labs to test hundreds of olive oils collected directly from supermarkets annually and results consistently support the finding that more than 98 percent of olive oil in U.S. retail outlets is authentic,” she added.
“Rigorous, peer-reviewed scientific research has consistently shown that all types of olive oil have significant health benefits, including reducing heart disease,” Balch said when the suit was filed. “This case is particularly troubling because in many previous controversies Dr. Oz has recommended products with no proven benefits, but in this case, his false and careless words have discouraged millions of people from using a product with scientifically demonstrated advantages.”
Specifically, the NAOOA said, the problems with Oz’s statements were:
- His 80 percent claim is patently false and completely unsourced;
- He relies on a subjective, taste-driven sensory test when only a scientific chemical laboratory test can determine if olive oil is pure; and
- Oz failed to disclose that his “expert,” Maia Hirschbein, was on the payroll of California Olive Ranch, which has a financial interest in promoting California olive oil and disparaging olive oil originating outside the state.
Amy Chiaro, the executive producer of The Dr. Oz Show said, “We are thrilled to be vindicated in this lawsuit and will continue to investigate and speak the truth about the importance of proper labeling on the foods we eat.”
In 2013, Oz told viewers to test the quality of their olive oil by putting it in the refrigerator to see if it congealed. The method was soon debunked as a myth by researchers at the University of California at Davis Olive Center.
Oz has frequently come under fire from his peers in the medical profession. A study published in the British Medical Journal on Oz’s medical advice found that more than half of his recommendations had no scientific support, or contradicted scientific evidence outright.
In April 2015, a group of ten physicians from across the United States, including Henry Miller, a fellow in scientific philosophy and public policy at Stanford University’s Hoover Institute, sent a letter to Columbia University calling Oz’s faculty position unacceptable. They accused Oz of “an egregious lack of integrity by promoting quack treatments and cures in the interest of personal financial gain.”
Georgia has food libel laws with a lower legal burden than traditional libel laws of other states making it easier for food companies to sue people who make disparaging remarks about their products.