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Manure Is Organic, Let’s Not Forget

Chemjobber put me on to this lawsuit filing, which is brought by the Organic Consumer’s Association versus The Honest Company. To decode all these, the OCA is an advocacy group (one of the most aggressive) for organic farming, and gets its funding both from its members and from the organic farming industry. You can pretty much fill in what they think about Monsanto, genetically modified organisms, and so on, and they’ve also been very critical of larger corporations’ activities in the organic foods business. To give you an idea of where they’re coming from, here’s an article from a couple of years back from them, arguing that Big Pharma and their henchmen are ignoring the all-natural ways to prevent and treat Ebola.

They’re going after the Honest people for their infant formula, which they say is falsely marketed as being “organic”. Their specific complaints are interesting on two levels. From a legal standpoint, just based on what I can see, they may well have grounds for complaint (see their paragraphs 5 through 11). There are apparently specific lists of what can go into a marketed product under the California Organic Products Act, and the lawsuit claims that several ingredients in the Honest product are not on those lists. I haven’t read the text of the law, but if the OCA has represented things accurately, that would seem to be their strongest argument – again, just on a legal basis, without reference to what one thinks of the whole “organic” business, the COPA, etc.

But the rest of the document. . .oh, boy. The OCA is not content to come in with a suit that says that these things have to be on this list, and they’re not. Instead, they go on, and on, and on about each substance and its horrible nonorganic nefariousness. Here, for example, is their take on sodium selenite:

Sodium Selenite is a hazardous substance. See, e.g., 40 C.F.R. §§ 116.4, 302.4. The FDA allows it to be added to animal feed, 21 C.F.R. § 573.920, but it has never been determined it to be safe to be added to foods for human consumption. Even at very low doses, animal studies show it has negative effects on the respiratory, gastrointestinal, cardiovascular, and metabolic systems, negatively impacts the liver, and has negative broad systemic effects. It is not permitted to be added to products labeled as “organic.”

Actually, guys, pretty much all selenium compounds (at least those that have a chance of being bioavailable) are hazardous substances. And yet selenium is an essential trace element, with nasty consequences if you don’t get it in your diet. Sodium selenite has been used as a selenium-fortifying substance for decades. Let’s try taurine next:

Taurine, a.k.a. 1, 2-aminoethanesulfonic acid, is not permitted in products labeled as “organic.” 7 C.F.R. §§ 205.105(c), 205.605; Cal. Health & Safety Code § 110820(b). In fact, the National Organic Standards Board (“NOSB”) specifically rejected applications to permit taurine to be added to organic products. See Exhibit 4. Even at very low doses, animal studies show the ingredient negatively impacts the brain and nervous system, metabolism, and cardiovascular system. Commercially available taurine is synthetically produced by reacting ethylene oxide with aqueous sodium bisulfate, reacting aziridine with sulfurous acid, or reacting monoethanolamine, sulfuric acid, and sodium sulfite. The FDA has not affirmed taurine to be safe in foods.

Note the emphasis on the synthetic, unnatural routes of preparation, complete with the full chemical names: it’s an evil chemical made in a vat. But also note that taurine is, in fact, produced in the human body (there’s plenty of it in bile) and is also found in all sorts of other animal tissues. So it’s hard to figure out how such low doses of it impact the brain and all those other systems, when we’re basically soaking in it, and when it’s been found to be essential for those systems to develop and function. And as for the FDA having “not affirmed” taurine to be safe in foods, well, every serving of meat and fish ever eaten has taurine in it, and the agency itself has said that it finds no reason to believe that taurine in unsafe in (say) energy drinks and the like, where it’s a common ingredient.

Let’s go on to another compound on their list, ascorbyl palmitate:

Ascorbyl palmitate is a chemical preservative. 21 C.F.R. § 182.3149. It is not permitted in organic products. 7 C.F.R. §§ 205.105(c), 205.605; Cal. Health & Safety Code § 110820. Nonetheless, Honest adds ascorbyl palmitate to its so-called “Organic” Infant Formula, despite the fact that the NOSB specifically rejected applications to permit ascorbyl palmitate to be added to such products. See Exhibit 5. Ascorbyl palmitate is prepared by condensing palmitoyl chloride and ascorbic acid in the presence of a dehydrochlorinating agent such as pyridine. It can also be produced by esterifying ascorbic acid with sulfuric acid, and then with palmitic acid. Other patented processes use dimethylformamide, dimethyl sulfoxide, or hydrogen fluoride instead of sulfuric acid.

Scary stuff, clearly – even though it breaks down in the body to palmitic acid (a naturally occurring fatty acid) and vitamin C. But the OCA is probably right that it’s not on the list, so their legal objection would stand. The next one is a particular favorite of mine in the document:

Calcium pantothenate is synthetically prepared from isobutyraldehyde, a synthetic flavoring substance and toxic chemical, 21 C.F.R. § 184.1212, 40 C.F.R. § 372.65, and formaldehyde, a hazardous substance, 40 C.F.R. § 116.4, via 1,1-dimethyl-2-hydroxypropionaldehyde and pantolactone, 21 C.F.R. § 184.1212. It is not allowed in organic products. See 7 C.F.R. §§ 205.105(c), 205.605; Cal. Health & Safety Code § 110820.

They go on to show a structure diagram of the compound and to say that “Calcium pantothenate is not the same substance as vitamin B5“. Why no, it’s the calcium salt of vitamin B5. But if you take a dose of all-natural vitamin B5, isolated by bearded artisans with only hand-made tools, and washed it down with fresh warm non-GMO milk straight from the cow, you are getting some calcium panthothenate. And I particularly like the reference to the preparation from isobutyraldehyde. The OCA would be interested to know that the all-natural route to pantothenate (which the human body cannot make for itself) is found in toxic, disease-causing bacteria, among others, and involves intermediates with names like ketovalerate and beta-alanine, which the FDA have not affirmed to be safe in foods. Here’s another favorite from the list:

Cholecalciferol is also a synthetic compound. 7 C.F.R. § 205.601. Cholecalciferol can be produced from fish liver oils, but Honest’s labels do not indicate that any ingredient was derived from seafood. The other method of production requires ultraviolet irradiation of ergosterol isolated from yeast and related fungi and purified by crystallization, or ultraviolet irradiation of 7-dehydrocholesterol produced from cholesterol. See 21 C.F.R. § 184.1950(a). Irradiated substances like cholecalciferol are not allowed in organic products. See 7 C.F.R. § 205.105(f); Cal. Health & Safety Code § 110820.

Well, it’s true that the cholecalciferol (a form of vitamin D) that’s added to food is a synthetic substance. And as stated, it’s made on scale by a reaction involving ultraviolet light, which is where all that “irradiated substance” talk comes from. But guess what, guys! It’s made in your body by the action of ultraviolet light penetrating your skin – yep, the all-natural form in your own hemp-clad, Dr. Bronner’s-soap-washed body is an “irradiated substance”. There’s no other way to get it. Freak out now.

The other substances the OCA objects to are in a similar vein – biotin, beta-carotene, and other well-known industrial toxins. Their problem with many of them is that they’re “synthetic”, which is pure vitalism – the idea that substances have some sort of essence, some vital spark, when they’re taken from a living organism as opposed to being drained out of some crusty, fuming vat. But biomolecules are biomolecules, and the pure substances are the pure substances, no matter how they’re made. So you get statements in the lawsuit such as “Phytonadione is not the same substance as phylloquinone“, when these are in fact two names for the exact same chemical substance, indistinguishable even by organic food activists.

But let me finish up with an observation. That OCA link above, about preventing and treating Ebola with all-natural stuff instead of, like, toxic drugs and chemicals? It recommends that people take more selenium. And get more vitamin D. And lots of Vitamin C. Let’s pretend that we live in a world where vitamin supplements can treat Ebola (we don’t, by the way): what would be some of the cheapest ways to treat all those desperately ill patients in the tropics with these vitamins? Why, sodium selenite, cholecalciferol, and ascorbyl palmitate. But I’m sure that those wouldn’t count. They’re not organic, right?

44 comments on “Manure Is Organic, Let’s Not Forget”

  1. Anon says:

    Seems their entire argument (prejudice?) is basically against anything synthetic, even if it’s a perfectly natural compound that has been made synthetically.

    I would suggest to rename all organic compounds as “purified XYZ extracts”, that should solve it.

  2. MSP says:

    Let’s be careful here… after all animals treated with antibiotics do poop and their manure is no longer considered organic by such farmers as these antibiotics can then accumulate in the foods grown in such contaminated soils. So is Manure always organic???

    1. Mary Mangan says:

      Strangely enough, non-antibiotic treated poop may lead to antibiotic resistance development. Go figure.

  3. Then there’s the other lawsuit from the same folks against another “organic” food company — complaining (among other things), that nucleotides are in the ingredient list and are again not on the list of permitted additives (but apparently oh-so-earthy-crunchy baking soda is) — also from ChemJobber

  4. Anonymous Researcher snaw says:

    Radon is totally natural. Doesn’t mean I want it in my house. Nor do I plan on visiting this place:

  5. Vader says:

    It’s a new variant of the old theory of vitalism. The additives are “tainted” by their synthetic preparation, somehow remembering that they weren’t put together by enzymes in a living organism.

  6. myma says:

    I need a glass of that hydrogenated water after this post.

    1. Anon says:

      This made me spit out my mouth of non-hydrogenated water all over my desk laughing.

      1. Dave the Knave says:

        My water is di-hydrogenated!

  7. Prairie Boy says:

    I see a similarity between a person speaking to their uncle in their native language, which happens to be Arabic, on an airplane and getting tossed off. While here they use the routine language of chemists to make something seem sinister.

  8. John Wayne says:

    If you want to be horrified, go over to the USDA website and read the list of things that organic farmers are specifically allowed to use. The only folks who have picked up on the desire for a more transparent food system are the marketing people; caveat emptor.

  9. Foster Boondoggle says:

    So OCA is run by a bunch of wackaloons and they believe in some ridiculous things. So what? Their crank vitalism doesn’t actually hurt anyone. If credulous consumers want to follow those crank beliefs, let them. As the recent stories about false labeling on menus in Tampa area restaurants showed, there’s a lot of demand out there for labels that make people feel virtuous, and a lot of lying in service of that demand. I fail to see the problem with OCA trying to enforce labeling claims related to their religious beliefs. How is this different from rabbis suing a company for falsely claiming their product was kosher?

    1. Helianthus says:

      Their crank vitalism doesn’t actually hurt anyone.

      That’s open to debate.
      Rejection of “synthetics” and “chemicals” and ascribing magical powers to natural / bioidentical stuff usually don’t stop at food (where at least it may have some basis for concern), but also extend to the accepted healthcare.

      Deciding that (organic) garlic is better than synthetic antibiotics at curing a bacterial infection is not far away.
      In Alberta, a trial was concluded yesterday about a couple of naturopaths who killed their little boy through inaction and beliefs in the “natural” way.

      As long as people keep in mind the difference between food and medical drugs, going for magical thinking in food shouldn’t do too much damage.
      But the problem with magical thinking is, it tends to overflow in all areas of one’s life.

      1. Anon says:

        Agreed-But I think if someone wants to subscribe to the magical ways of thinking in life, they should be allowed to, but also required to do so in all areas of their lives. Same goes for politicians-don’t believe in science that’s fine. But give up your technology (cell phones, computers, tablets, high speed internet, etc.) that is the product of science, and swear-off all advanced medicine that has come from scientific research. Only when the hypocrisy and selective fairytale BS is forced into view can we start to root it out permanently.

      2. zero says:

        It goes far beyond food. People who listen to the food babe and similar con artists when it comes to food advice are listening to their equivalents (looking at you fox news and dr. oz) when it comes to news, economics, politics, health.

        These people vote believing the lies they’ve been sold. They vote for people who believe as they believe. Those elected idiots are the ones cutting funding for every kind of research under the sun, not to mention allowing homeopathy to be legal (among assorted travesties too numerous to mention).

        Don’t let people get away with this. If someone you know is being conned, do what you can to turn them around. Often it’s hopeless but some people can be redeemed from their path of willful ignorance and fear. Let’s continue to call out the con artists wherever and whenever they appear.

        1. Mark Thorson says:

          They should make illegal current homeopathy products because they’re made with a coolant used in nuclear reactor cores. Hey, I’m not anti-homeopathy — I’m pro-safe homeopathy! Just figure out how to make it without the nuclear reactor coolant!

      3. Foster Boondoggle says:

        My point is just that what OCA is engaging in is effectively religious activity, and we should judge it that way, not as though it’s some broken version of science. Doing that will also contribute to keeping all the pseudo-science about GMOs at bay – if it’s clear to most onlookers that what’s at issue is fine parsing of some religious tenet, there’s less impetus to dress things up in cargo-cult evidentiary claims, and the rest of us get to see fewer pictures of tumor-riddled rats.

        Labeling a product “Organic” is no different from labeling it “Kosher” or “Halal”. (The only thing that makes this slightly peculiar in the US is that the NOSB operates in partnership with the USDA to maintain the standard. But it’s a *marketing* standard, not a claim about safety or nutritional content. Claims about those things by OCA or others are religious proselytizing, no different from claims by evangelicals about what you have to do to be “saved”.) All they’re doing with this lawsuit is protecting their religious turf.

        1. Helianthus says:

          My point is just that what OCA is engaging in is effectively religious activity

          They would argue otherwise, and I am willing to go some steps in the direction of “less pesticides or additives in food is better” as being somewhat science-based (so not totally faith-based, as is religion), but OK.

          However, it doesn’t change my point. Now I’m calling forward children who died in the past because their religious parents decided to pray the illness away instead of seeking mainstream healthcare.

          I will put it this way:
          Whatever the reason – religious or just being ill-informed -, an individual is entitled to be as silly as he/she wants with its life decision, as long as no-one else is harmed.
          But when this individual’s belief system may results in harm for bystanders, especially people he/she is responsible for, like children, I say stop.
          I will also point out that the freedom to make its own decision is wonderful, but only as long as one gets the correct background to rest its decision on. People spreading lies are in fact robbing you of your freedom of decision.
          Also, as a scientist, I like to divide the universe into facts and beliefs. And I don’t like it when people start treating their beliefs as facts.

    2. Doctor Memory says:

      Their crank vitalism doesn’t actually hurt anyone.

      That’s an odd thing to say in the context of a story about them suing people.

    3. loupgarous says:

      When the organic food religionists don’t do what the rest of us do, simply line through deceptively labeled foods on their grocery lists (as I do when I learn a brand of “live culture” yogurt isn’t), but drag those who violate their list of taboos through court, it’s a First Amendment issue.

      I don’t actually recall reading about rabbis or imams prosecuting anyone for breaking kosher or halal in their food products, But the secular faith of Organic Food is becoming a legal bat to beat the rest of us into compliance with their beliefs, and that ain’t cool.

  10. Isidore says:

    I am sure the E. coli that recently made Chipotle customers sick was organic and non-GMO.

  11. Anon says:

    I wonder if they would refuse to sell their products to artificially conceived customers?

    Probably not, that would be too unhypocritical, and would hurt their profits, which are obviously what they really care about.

  12. clickbait says:

    The picture the organic movement doesn’t want you to see

  13. gippgig says:

    Off topic but may be of interest:
    Advancing the Discipline of Regulatory Science for Medical Product Development: An Update on Progress and a Forward-Looking Agenda

  14. Julien says:

    They even have added salt ! What the industry doesn’t want you to know is that salt is primarily made of sodium and chlorine. According to wikipedia, sodium is an extremely reactive metal that *burns* in air, or even *under water*. Chlorine is not better. It is widespread in all the chemical that surrond us, from bleach to PVC to freons. Stuffing your body with these two corrosive elements is just a one-way road to cancer and plenty other civilization diseases. You want to stay away from this !

  15. Taken Lightly says:

    Anyone who’s that uptight about formula additives, vitalism, morphogenic resonance or what have you must have heard of breast milk.

  16. Mark Thorson says:

    They should not be allowed to receive blood transfusions — blood is irradiated to suppress graft vs. host disease.

    1. John Wayne says:

      Wow, cool. I learned something new today. Thank you.

    2. Damn anesthesia says:

      It’s occasionally radiated to prevenr gvhd, but usually isn’t. Only very immunosupressed patients, like those with leukemia, or those undergoing chemo. Too expensive and a little unsafe otherwise (raises extracellular potassium levels, which can be a big problem if you’re giving a lot)

  17. Veylon says:

    I’ve always found the organic campaign against GMO foods to be utterly baffling. If you don’t want your plants marinated in pesticides (and I don’t!) then having a plant that doesn’t need to be sprayed would seemingly be ideal. Not to mention other useful traits like using less water (which we all want to save) and producing more per acre (and thus preserving nature).

    1. Julien says:

      Most GMO crops are not meant to contain less pesticides, but MORE of them. They are resistant to herbicides, so basically you can soak your field in the herbicide, and the GMO will be the only thing growing there. Better yields, for sure, but it will be seasoned with those herbicides.

      1. Rickinreallife says:

        What is your definition of “soaked” and do farmers actually do that.

        Herbicide tolerance gives farmers the option to control weeds during the growing season with topical applied sprays, without it, farmers would have to rely more on tillage (more erosion, disruption of soil ecosystems, more energy intensive, soil compaction, a long list of other environmental and economic drawbacks), chemical products applied preemergent designed to remain in the soil after the crop emerges and activate with rains throughout the growing season, and other chemicals that crops are naturally tolerant of can be applied during growing season, like atrazine. I think the term herbicide tolerance creates a mental model that since there is no constraint on applying to growing crops, the whole point of ht traits must be to allow producers to apply pesticides generously and often, and producers must be just wantonly doing so. Thus the scary hyperbole, crops are “drenched”, “saturated”, “marinated”, etc. . But is this actually what is happening? I think you might be surprised at the chemical strategies that were used prior to ht traits .

    2. Noni Mausa says:

      My problem with the anti-GMO and pro-GMO arguments is that the term “GMO,” like “organic,” is too inclusive. I can be “pro-carpentry” and still be “anti-gallows.” If some small change, like bloom colour, is affected, who cares? But if genome X is inserted into a common food item, and turns out to cause anaphylactic shock in 1/10,000 people based on some unpredictable metabolic clash, or creates a mutant version of a virus that proceeds to wipe out most monocots, we might never know whence the disaster derived — certainly not in time to prevent it.

      This is the sort of thing that rational people worry about when discussing GMO research. I don’t worry about it much, simply because I’m in no position to know enough to even suggest a sane regulatory regime — if such can even exist in a multinational world.

  18. Mary Mangan says:

    The OCA rocket scientists are wicked good at vaccines too:

    Trying to keep your cows safe from the autism, I guess.

  19. Clarissagavin says:

    Am I the only one who thinks it’s hilarious that the OCA is getting their panties in a bunch about ascorbyl palmitate when their answer to pretty much every disease known to man is supplemental vitamin C?

    1. Clarissagavin says:

      Well, there I go again, letting my mouth run ahead of my eyes. I really need to finish the article before jumping down to the comments and pretending I’ve made a witty observation.

  20. Garrett Wollman says:

    To be fair (which is probably more than these cranks deserve, but anyway…) a great deal of what’s tied up in “organic” labeling has really nothing to do with what’s actually in the food — these things serve merely as a poor but at least measurable proxy for other aspects of our industrialized food system that it’s at least theoretically legitimate to oppose. These complaints seem pretty laughable and off-target in large part because there is no legal “hook” on which to hang their *real* complaints.

    For an analogy which doesn’t directly involve the NOP: there are legitimate reasons to think that administering rBST to dairy cattle is a bad idea. (These reasons have to do with health and humane treatment of the animals, and with opinions about the economics and scale of dairy farming.) But no valid distinction can be made with regards to human use of the milk as a food. So dairies can advertise that they only buy milk from farms that do not use rBST, but they are not allowed to claim that this milk is somehow better *for human consumption* than any other milk. Because these values are incommensurate, different people can come to different conclusions about what matters to them.

    Likewise, I buy a lot of NOP-labeled products, knowing full well that at least half of it is woo, because the way the program is structured (collecting pretty much every belief about how the food system ought to work, no matter how contradictory, under one big umbrella) drowns out most other ways that I might send a market signal about those things I *do* care about.

  21. Dr Death says:

    The principal difference between organic and intensive agriculture is that organic food has more carbon-14 in it. This is of course only an serious issue of the 14C ends up in your DNA where it can cause strand breaks, interstrand cross-linking as a results of it transmuting into nitrogen.

  22. Dave says:

    An infusion of Hemlock can certainly be prepared such that it’s organic. But, I wouldn’t want to follow the example of Socrates and drink a cup of it! Heck, I have a cousin whose horse nibbled on some last year, and it almost killed it. 🙁

    As for radiation, maybe I’ll go eat an organic banana (and get a Banana Equivalent Dose of radiation!).

    Or, maybe I’ll munch on some organic Brazil Nuts (I am feeling kind of hungry at the moment). Ohoh! I just consumed 1000 times the normal intake of radioactive Radium! And, my Selenium intake was well above the Tolerable Upper Intake Level.

    1. loupgarous says: shows that if you’re not careful which “organic chocolate” you eat, you could be buzzing on lead and cadmium along with those nice theobromines.

      Depressingly, it’s mostly the ultra dark chocolate I like that comes with free lead and/or cadmium. Just as well, I’m diabetic and there are even more pressing reasons for me not to indulge in that stuff more then four times a year.

  23. MoMo says:

    The Honest Company would be better off without the Organic label as we all know that the FDA National List of Allowed and Prohibited substances for organic foods is a cauldron of pesticides, toxins and industrial chemicals in addition to allowing the use of Xylazine and Lasix in farm animals. Tell that to Organic afficianados!

    But Id like to see the OCA go up against Honest with a 1.6B market cap. Honest will drain their pockets.

  24. loupgarous says:

    I’ve read and heard, more than once, “organic food” buffs complain about “all those chemicals they put in food.”

    I know that high school chem class leaves permanent marks on the psyche for those who rejoice in never having to balance a stochiometric equation again, BUT chemicals are the “farm” from which every molecule in our food, and our bodies for that matter comes.

    That plot of land the organic food people fondly imagine they get all their vittles from is nothing but a huge chemical dump. Not a rainbow under a unicorn on the lot.

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