The Organic Consumer’s Union War on Syllables

Too many syllables!

Derek Lowe has an excellent post on his blog on Science: Translational Medicine that unpacks the illiterate fear mongering in the Organic Consumer Union’s filing for a lawsuit against the Honest Company for including non-organic ingredients in a baby formula that the company has dishonestly labeled as “organic”, which would be and should be fair enough. But it’s not. Instead they’ve seen the filing as an opportunity to spread some pseudo-scientific fear mongering.

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.

It calls to mind the Emperor’s reaction to Mozart’s new composition in the film Amadeus.

MOZART: So then you like it? You really like it, Your Majesty?

EMPEROR: Of course I do. It’s very good. Of course now and then – just now and then – it gets a touch elaborate.

MOZART: What do you mean, Sire?

EMPEROR: Well, I mean occasionally it seems to have, how shall one say? [he stops in difficulty; turning to Orsini-Rosenberg] How shall one say, Director?

ORSINI-ROSENBERG: Too many notes, Your Majesty?

EMPEROR: Exactly. Very well put. Too many notes.



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