by Heather Callaghan
In December 2012, whistleblower Mario Ciasulli, a semi-retired electrical engineer in North Carolina, put pressure on Whole Foods to come clean about a fertilizer method among their conventional produce suppliers.
That is, using sewage sludge, the “pink slime” of large produce farming. No joke – actual sewage. Whole Foods’ conventional produce is grown on soil layered with human waste as a fertilizer.
The stuff that’s flushed down sinks, drains and toilets? The water is removed from the resulting sludge, heated and sprayed. Yes, this includes pharmaceutical residues, chemicals, heavy metals, BPA, phthalates, resistant pathogens, PFCs, industrial solvents, flame retardants and other things that heat is insufficient to treat. Guess what else? There is a ton of evidence that these things “bioaccumulate” in the plants and organisms that eat them. It is doubtful that this practice is good for pollinators.
The company escaped scrutiny for a long time by referring to the waste as ”bio-solids.” Here is the origin of that little PR spin.
Whole Foods’ customers expected better for the high prices. At the very least, to be safe from contamination, without having to take out another mortgage to buy nothing but certified organic. Watch Mario talk about it here.
Since Ciasulli dug further and demanded to know the conventional food origins, thousands of activists begged Whole Foods for some disclosure. His efforts were supported by the Center for Media and Democracy, who brought the wide-spread practice to light in the groundbreaking 1993 book,
Toxic Sludge is Good For You: Lies, Damn Lies and the Public Relations Industry.
Recently, Whole Foods announced a new set of standards for fresh produce and flowers, but it conveniently left out anything referring to sewage sludge.
Instead, we know about this agreement from Whole Foods’ email communications to Ciasulli:
[p]rohibiting the use of biosolids will be part of our core requirements. All of our suppliers will be compliant with the core requirements by the time we roll out the program.
A follow-up email from Whole Foods explained:
This initial release was meant to be high-level. There are far too many nuances to include on a press release.
Some consumers are disillusioned by the revelation and want a more public confirmation, but no hard feelings from Ciasulli who says:
I am encouraged that Whole Foods has made the commitment to ban biosolids in their produce in 2014, and that the company will require supporting documentation from their suppliers. We expect Whole Foods to follow through in a real and meaningful way.
Whole Foods has been making an effort to get in touch more locally by offering fixed low-interest loans to local growing innovators, which has lifted their PR quotient quite a bit. After consumers started detecting GMO ingredients in Whole Foods’ stores, they decided to adoptmandatory labeling of their GM products, rolling out in 2018.
But if you want to really bypass the whole sewage, lack of transparency thing, go here:
Image: PR Watch