ABC says Stossel report on organic food was wrong

NEW YORK - ABC News admitted on Monday that a ''20/20'' report by John Stossel questioning the safety of organic produce was wrong and that the reporter would apologize on the air for his mistake on Friday.

The network wouldn't say whether Stossel or any ''20/20'' staffers would be disciplined. An environmental watchdog group is calling for Stossel to be fired.

The report, first aired in February and repeated last month, seemed to debunk the common belief that organic food is safer than regular foods because no pesticides are used.

Stossel said on the air that tests conducted on produce for ABC News ''surprisingly found no pesticide residue on the conventional samples or the organic.''

The Washington-based Environmental Working Group charged that pesticide tests on produce were never conducted for the show. ABC, in its statement on Monday, confirmed that the tests were not done.

ABC said Stossel was relying on inaccurate information that had been provided to him by a staff member. ''We are reviewing the circumstances surrounding the error,'' the network said.

A producer mistakenly believed that a test done on chicken had also been done on produce, said an ABC executive who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Stossel did not return a message left on his answering machine Monday. A staff member said she believed Stossel was on vacation.

The environmental group also said that chicken was tested for pesticides at ABC's request, and traces were found on the regular poultry but not on the organic poultry. This finding favorable to the organic food proponents was not mentioned on the show, the group said.

ABC had no comment on Monday about any pesticide tests for chicken, saying it was still reviewing the report.

Kenneth Cook, president of the Environmental Working Group, said that he was not satisfied with ABC's statement.

About Stossel, Cook said: ''He's not a contrarian, he's a counterfeiter who'll do anything for ratings. He needs to be fired.''

The group said it had complained to ABC about the report's accuracy after it originally aired in February. Despite this, Stossel repeated the mistake on July 7 in a comment made to anchorwoman Cynthia McFadden: ''It's logical to worry about pesticide residues, but in our tests, we found none on either organic or regular produce.''

After the environmentalists' original complaints, the network sent a form letter erroneously claiming that pesticide tests had been conducted on produce, said Mike Casey, the group's spokesman. ''They absolutely didn't take this seriously,'' he said.

ABC said it was investigating why the mistake was repeated despite the outside warnings.


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