Harvard distances itself from ‘pure poison’ statement in response to Indian government’s wrath

Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health Dean Dr Michelle Williams wrote an email response to Dr B. N. Srinivasa Murthy, Horticulture Commissioner of India, which FoodNavigator-Asia ​has read, courtesy of Dr Murthy.

Dr Murthy wrote the original strongly-worded letter​ to Dr Williams, calling for a retraction of the statement.

In the email, Dr Williams clarified that Dr Karin Michels, who first gave the lecture describing coconut oil as ‘pure poison’, is not a ‘Harvard professor’​.

“We are aware of media coverage of Dr Michels giving a talk in which she mentioned coconut oil,” ​wrote Dr Williams.

“Media reports have referred to Dr Michels as a ‘Harvard professor’. This is misleading. She has an appointment as an adjunct professor, which she retains because she will be mentoring a student.”

However, Dr Williams declined to issue a full retraction of the ‘pure poison’ statement, adding that it is “[not policy] to comment on the research or individual comments of faculty associated with the School in any manner.”

“[They] are speaking on behalf of themselves and their research findings and not on behalf of the institution.”

“We believe this policy is critical to maintaining an environment that supports the free expression of ideas and encourages debate.”

Sharing his response with FoodNavigator-Asia, ​Dr Murthy reacted to the email positively, saying: “I am happy that Harvard University finally disowned [sic] the imprudent statement made by Dr Karin Michels [calling it an individual statement] and not of the Institution [sic].”

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