That's the word from the Regional Midwest Produce Coordinator. In response to the FDA's public relations blitz to create a panic about the dangers of bacterial contamination of sprouts, Whole Foods Corporation is poised to carry only sprouts certified with a HACCP plan (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point). The HACCP plan requires soaking seed in a bleach solution so strong it needed EPA approval; the equivalent of one part household bleach to one part water. We are certified organic sprout growers who supply Whole Foods in Madison, Wisconsin and St. Paul, Minnesota. If we used the FDA/HACCP level of bleach, we (who are only 1/5 the size of the average sprout grower) would be dumping essentially 100 gallons of household bleach into the Kickapoo River every week, which flows into the Wisconsin River, which in turn flows into the Mississippi River, which pours out at the Gulf of Mexico. That's what Whole Foods is very likely to demand of us in the near future, and if we don't do it, they will simply buy their sprouts from a company that is willing to dump bleach on their community.
We are very clean. We have studied the HACCP checklist and find that we already perform all the crucial measures on the list except for soaking our seeds in bleach! Our organic certification (OCIA) would not allow the use of bleach anywhere near the level of the FDA and HACCP plan. We buy our seed from certified organic growers who test their seed for pathog52223ens. It is our belief, based on our knowledge of agricultural practices, that if every sprout grower used pre-tested certified organic seed, contamination problems would virtually disappear. There has been a lot of organic-bashing lately from entities threatened by the organic movement. They say that organic growers are filthy because they spread raw manure on their fields. This is a lie; organic growers do not use raw manure--conventional farmers do, however. But people unfamiliar with organic agriculture have no way of knowing this unless people like us tell them. It is just another scare tactic to frighten people away from organic food. Whole Foods, which could be a flagship corporation at the forefront of organics on the retail level, is instead caving in to bureacrats and liability fears and may actually help contribute to the destruction of natural foods industries in this country. They have already pulled sprouts from all their salad bars and premade sandwiches nationwide. The local Whole Foods produce people at the Madison store are sympathetic, but they have very little influence in the corporate hierarchy. Whole Foods appears to be just another company in the money business.
THIS IS ABOUT MORE THAN SPROUTS. If you care about healthy food, Whole Food's ban last year on unpastuerized apple cider and their likely ban on organic, unbleached sprouts is a warning bell that other foods will also soon be banned. Whole Foods is the largest natural foods retailer in this country, with gross sales of over 1.3 billion last year. They have the power to take a leadership role in promoting the organic movement that has blossomed in this country but if they fail to assume that mantle they will have had a hand in the demise of entire natural foods industries and certainly in their own demise as well. Read their company Mission Statement under the heading, We Promote Environmental Stewardship: "We see the necessity of active environmental stewardship so that the earth continues to flourish for generations to come. We seek to balance our needs with the needs of the rest of the planet through the following actions: Supporting sustainable agriculture. We are committed to greater production of organically and biodynamically grown foods in order to reduce pesticide use and promote soil conservation". Pretty words. Demanding that a producer of food dump hundreds of gallons of bleach onto that earth is NOT promoting "environmental stewardship".
WHAT YOU CAN DO:
Call or write Whole Foods Corporate Offices at:
601 North Lamar St. Suite 300
Austin, TX 78703
Check Whole Foods website for more addresses: http://www.wholefoods.com/company/locations/body/offices.html
Tell them that unless they start acting like a natural food company, you will be back shopping at your local neighborhood co-op which, incidentally, needs your patronage now more than ever!
Lori Tooker and Gil Frishman
On Tuesday, August 17 after faxing a copy of this letter to Whole Foods Corporate Offices I received a call from Margaret Wittenberg, Vice President of Government and Public Affairs at Whole Foods in Austin, Texas. She told me she was "very disappointed" that I had chosen to disseminate this letter, and I told her I was very disappointed with Whole Foods decision not to carry organic sprouts (due to the HACCP bleach requirement). She said it was unfair of us not to tell Whole Foods side of the story, even though I mention their concerns over liability in the letter. She expressed liability concerns if someone gets sick eating something they bought at a Whole Foods store. I pointed out that whenever you open your doors to the public you have to be willing to accept that risk, and she agreed. I also pointed out that HACCP certification is not going to prevent lawsuits and pointed out to her that there were foods in Whole Foods stores that were of much greater risk than organic sprouts. She said she sits on the USDA's Organic Standards Board and sees no difference in the safety of organic vs. conventional food. She said she found my statement about the dumping of bleach a bit dramatic. At this point I strongly affirmed that any bleach we use goes to the sewage plant in our town and then the dioxin from bleach--which does not get filtered out in the treatment process--goes right into the river. All in all, my sense is that this person, although perhaps sincere about her concerns for Whole Foods Corporation, is extremely misinformed and downright ignorant for someone who is a member of the National Organic Standards Board. I mentioned that The Sproutpeople have produced a 13 page report that examines the actual risk involved with sprouts and compares it to the risk of eating other foods. I explained to her that organically produced seed was safer to use than conventional seed, something she seemed unaware of. She asked me to send her a copy of our report, which I have done and I also gave her the name and address of an organic sprouting seed grower that we buy from who can explain organic methods of growing and harvesting to her. She said if it could be proven to Whole Foods that organically grown seed insures safety of the seed they might change their decision. We aren't holding our breath for this.
We posted this letter on the Whole Foods Chat area in the Politics of Food "room". In addition to the call Lori recieved from Margaret Wittenberg (within hours of her fax), we also got quite a response on our posting - in the form of a response, within hours, from Margaret - to which we responded - Whole Foods then responded to our response within hours. Silly isn't it? We are pleased that they are paying attention to us, though only to cover themselves and to discredit us - of course. Here is that banter.
Judge for yourself who is committed to organics =:->
Campaign for Food Safety
Organic Basher Revealed - NY Times