By AIMEE SACHS
ATLANTA (CN) – An olive oil trade association claims in court that Dr. Oz made disparaging statements about the quality and purity of its members’ products on his talk show.
In a lawsuit filed in Fulton County Superior Court on Tuesday, the North American Olive Oil Association claims Dr. Mehmet Oz and guests on his popular television program, “made a series of false statements regarding the quality and purity of olive oil sold in supermarkets in the United States, including but not limited to imported olive oils.”
“The statements made on The Doctor Oz Show caused harm to plaintiff’s business, including the Quality Seal Program, and to plaintiff’s reputation and ability to continue its work,” the complaint says.
Also named as defendants are Oz Media and Zoco Productions.
The trade association complaint stems from the May 12, 2016 episode of “The Doctor OZ Show” during which Oz and his guests discussed the “truths” about various foods, including olive oil.
During the show, Oz spoke to Maia Hirschbein, who was introduced as a “certified oleologist.”
“Ms. Hirschbein is employed by the California Olive Ranch, a privately owned company based in Chico, California that manufactures and sells olive oil made in California,” the complaint says. “At no point in the show did any person disclose Ms. Hirschbein’s vested interest in denigrating olive oils originating outside of California or her vested interested in promoting California olive oils.”
During the episode, Oz claimed that, “[A] shocking 80 percent of the extra virgin olive oil that you buy every day in your supermarket isn’t the real deal. It may even be fake.”
He went on to say that “most of the olive oil in your pantry might be a scam. … A scam pretty literally means it probably contains less actual olive oil than you’ve ever imagined. It’s likely been mixed with artificial colors and less expensive oils. In other words, you are not getting what you’re paying for.”
The trade association says Oz sought to support his claims by noting that in April, “police in Italy nabbed 7,000 tons of fraudulent olive oil, much of it bound for storage right here in America.”
“By making that statement, Dr. Oz unequivocally implied that the olive oil seized by Italian authorities was, among other things, tainted by oils from non-olive sources,” the complaint says. “But the truth is that none of the olive oil seized by Italian authorities was alleged to have come from non-olive sources. Similarly, there were no claims that the olive oil contained artificial colors or was in any other way ‘adulterated.'”
The trade association says Oz’s statements were not based on “reasonable or reliable scientific inquiry, facts or data.”
It says while that makes his claims harmful on their face, the harm is compounded by the fact his viewers take his recommendations seriously and make purchases based on his suggestions.
The association says the olive oil produced by its members undergoes rigorous testing and that typically about 95 percent of them met or exceed International Olive Council quality and purity standards.
Therefore, it says, the only thing the association could conclude was that “the statements on The Dr. Oz Show were designed to promote California olive oils and to prevent viewers from buying olive oils produced elsewhere in the United States.”
The association is seeking consequential and punitive damages for claims of disparagement of perishable food products, tortuous interference with business relations and negligent misrepresentation.
It is represented by Michael Kohler of Atlanta.
Cheryl Crowley, spokeswoman for the defendants, said in a statement, “The Dr. Oz Show plans to aggressively defend the story which was covered by numerous other reputable news organizations including CBS News’ 60 Minutes, The New York Times and Time Magazine. We intend to refute the allegations, some of which stem from the discredited and constitutionally questionable veggie libel statute.”