It’s been a little over a month since our previous post on the Fermented Cod Liver Oil (FCLO) upheaval. I promised then that we would wait to see how Green Pasture Products (GPP) and the Weston A. Price Foundation (WAPF) addressed the major issues that have come to light, and then we’d respond again.
In the interim, GPP has released quite a bit of information, including laboratory test results. WAPF issued a long Q&A, and some bloggers and researchers connected to WAPF also posted responses. So, it’s time now for our update.
I’m going to do this backwards and start with the summary, since some might not want to wade through the nitty-gritty details. If you’re interested in just the highlights and my takeaway, read this section and then scroll on down to the bottom for my conclusion.
As it stands now, we have stopped carrying Green Pasture Products at Beeyoutiful. There are just too many unknowns about the product. We’d still like to know:
- What’s the source of the trans fats in FCLO?
- Why is there D2 in an animal product?
- What about the many reports of health issues that are now coming to light?
In my opinion, both GPP and WAPF have acted as though they are more concerned about losing consumer confidence than they are in openly and honestly addressing these and many other issues.
We have had a personal membership with WAPF for many years, attending conferences as a participant, a vendor, and a sponsor, and have directed many people to their site for information on healthy living. Sadly, we can no longer recommend the Weston A. Price Foundation as a reliable, trustworthy resource for health advice.
And, based on the way they have treated others who have said anything negative about GPP’s fermented cod liver oil, they probably wouldn’t have us as a vendor again anyway. We have seen enough information coming out of WAPF as this situation has unfolded that we know to be untrue, that it calls into question the accuracy of other information that they have published and endorsed.
I’m still holding out some hope that out of this turmoil some good changes will come about in GPP and WAPF, and that we might be able to renew these business relationships in the future. My hope wavers, though, when I think that rebuilding trust is going to require a much higher level of honesty and transparency than we’ve seen thus far.
I do not mean to imply that everything GPP and WAPF are saying is untrue. Sometimes what is not said is as important, and sometimes more important, than what is said. For example, you might ask someone, “How is that cool car of yours? Is it still running?” And they reply that yes, it purrs like a kitten, and they detailed it just the other day and how wonderful it is to own a car like that. It is easy to infer from this that all is well, nay, even fantastic with the hot car, and that the owner cruises around in it regularly, just feeling the wind in his hair.
But that’s not actually what was said. Some pertinent information that wasn’t revealed might be that the tires are bald, the brakes are squishy, and they hydroplaned in it on a rainy day, crashing into a median, bending the axel and tearing off the front quarter panel, and this glorious car isn’t even drivable at the moment. What was actually said is still absolutely true, but at the same time also completely misleading.
Both WAPF and GPP have been doing similar things with the information they publish, and have been for years. This is why people believed that the fish in FCLO was Atlantic Cod and that it was sourced from the Atlantic and Arctic regions like most other high quality CLOs. We were led en masse to believe these things, because of both what was and was not communicated by GPP and WAPF, even though they never said these things specifically. There is now evidence that they knew this is what people were believing and they did nothing to correct these misconceptions.
For Beeyoutiful to have a relationship with WAPF and GPP in the future, we must feel confident that it won’t require reading between the lines to figure out what’s not being said in order to have a correct understanding of where a product is sourced, how it’s made, and what ingredients it contains.
Now for detailed questions and answers for those of you who are interested. (Everyone else, skip to the important part at the bottom.)
1) Question: Does Green Pasture FCLO contain the levels of vitamins claimed in their literature?
Our previous answer: “Well, it seems like probably not. In his rebuttal blog post, Wetzel didn’t even argue that point. However, he said that the amount of vitamins is less important than the bio-activity of the vitamins. He says their bio-activity is very high.”
Update: “Probably not” still seems accurate, based on the updated information that we have. GPP did post information that one scientist said that the only way to properly measure Vitamin D is to do a rat bioassay. (Feed the rats the product in question, then kill the rats and test the tissue and blood for the component that interests you.) GPP also posted a rat bioassay from 2009 that apparently showed good levels of vitamin D.
Other information has come out, though, that indicates that taking FCLO does not raise blood serum Vitamin D levels in some people, and at least one person reported that it actually suppressed the level. This is something that WAPF said bears further investigation.
Also, GPP is reporting that most of the vitamin D in FCLO is D2, and most of the vitamin D in other premium CLOs is D3. Possible explanations are that the fermenting process converts D3 to D2, or that the test results from that lab are simply not accurate. Vitamin D2 is generally considered a lesser vitamin, being far less active and much more potentially toxic than D3. (I’ll address Vitamin D in more detail later.)
Is Green Pasture FCLO actually fermented, or is it rancid?
One of the questions that has arisen out of this controversy is a simple one: can meat be fermented? This person
, who seems to know a bit about fermenting, says no, but that it can be cured.
I consulted Sandor Katz, the author of “The Art of Fermentation” and he said that yes, meat could be fermented, in hundreds or maybe thousands of ways, but that he didn’t know enough about the GPP process to comment on it specifically. He did reference a passage from an old book that spoke about cod liver oil extraction through putrefaction (the same passage GPP references as a model for their process). In answer to my follow up question of whether putrefaction and fermentation were the same thing, he said that “putrefaction is often occurring alongside fermentation and is responsible for some of the ‘edgier’ flavors.”
So, is the cod liver oil fermented? Is it putrefied? Is it both? I don’t know. Short of having a whole panel of fermentation experts intimately review the entire process, I’m not sure we’ll ever know. I seriously doubt GPP is willing to open up their entire process to that level of scrutiny.
In the past few weeks, I have learned more about oils, lipids, and rancidity than I will probably ever find useful in any other context! I learned is that there are three types of rancidity:
- Hydrolytic rancidity – results in Free Fatty Acids (FFAs) which are susceptible to oxidation and salts of FFAs, and has a bad odor
- Oxidative rancidity – results in aldehydes, ketones, and other substances which can be toxic and create a bad odor
- Microbial rancidity – results in a bad odor
I cannot find any information that specifically says that hydrolytic or microbial rancidity can result in anything other than bad odor. It is readily apparent to me that the product is rancid, almost certainly experiencing hydrolytic rancidity, and maybe microbial.
The scientists that GPP and WAPF have trotted out have been very careful to speak only about oxidation and to say that the product is low in primary and secondary indicators of oxidation. Not one of them has said that the product is not rancid, although GPP and WAPF themselves have both stated unequivocally that FCLO it is not rancid.
3) Question: Is Green Pasture FCLO safe to use?
Answer: Most people think this hinges on the issue of rancidity. As stated before, the product does not have the markers of oxidation and does not seem to contain toxic byproducts of oxidation. I can’t find any information that says that hydrolytic or microbial rancidity are dangerous in and of themselves, but they seem to usually go hand in hand with oxidation, so there really isn’t much information on them alone.
However, there have been rumors and reports of people not doing well while using FCLO. There have been claims of heart conditions, including heart failure, that have cleared up after stopping daily FCLO supplementation. I have seen at least one person whose CRP (a blood test for inflammation in the body) numbers went down significantly after one month of no FCLO, when they had stayed at a steady elevated level for the previous 5-6 years while on the FCLO.
There are numerous reports from people that say that they couldn’t tolerate the FCLO, but they did fine on other non-fermented cod liver oils. There are reports of burning throats when taking the FCLO, with one person reporting that it was like her throat was on fire.
And then there is the issue of trans fats. Trans fats are not “generally recognized as safe” by the FDA, and manufacturers have until 2018 to get them out of foods (or get an exception). Trans fats are believed to be one of the biggest contributors to heart disease. GPP posted a number of test results recently and most of them had trans fats levels near or above 1%. One of the tests from the report from Dr. Kaayla Daniel showed levels over 3%.
This is a huge problem because in the real food movement, trans fats are a huge no-no, no matter the amount. If it has detectable levels of trans fats, it is simply not considered a good product. Trans fats are a problem about which GPP and WAPF have remained very quiet.
Now, there are things that aren’t good that we eat in our diets all the time and our bodies filter them out. I’m sure the same would be true of trans fats in small amounts. The problem now is that it is in high quantities in many foods, and the effect of trans fats is cumulative.
If you know your diet to be otherwise free of trans fats, this might not be an issue for you. Trans fats are required to be listed on the label of all foods, but dietary supplement labeling is different. Because the serving size of FCLO is so small, there could be over 20% trans fats in the product and they would not be allowed by the FDA to put that on the label. (2)
Dr. Weston A. Price warned decades ago that cod liver oil had some toxins in it, and to use it in small amounts. He also said that because of the synergistic effects of using it with high vitamin butter oil, the same effects could be achieved with much smaller doses.
Green Pasture touts their product as wholly unique and is very up front that “this product is not for everyone”. Whether this unique product is any more dangerous than other CLOs, and the issues listed above are simply from overdosing, I do not know.
WAPF basically blamed Dr. Ron’s heart failure on FCLO overdose, implying irresponsibility on his part. That would mean that too much FCLO is dangerous, but how much is too much? For years, WAPF recommended 6-12 times the dosage that GPP now has on its website and labels. Thankfully, those references have now been removed and they are only recommending a dosage a little more than 2 times the GPP recommendation.
They still recommend putting FCLO into baby formula and the dosage is very high, because it is based on their previous recommendations and hasn’t been updated. I would recommend not putting any cod liver oil in homemade baby formula, but if you think you need it, I would advocate that you use a different one until more is known about this issue and its safety.
It is certainly possible that this unique product may have unique beneficial properties as they say, and it may also be unique in its detrimental properties. Since it is unique, all of the studies that have been done on CLO toxicity, safety, and benefit do not necessarily apply to FCLO.
I think the takeaway from all of this is that Cod Liver Oil, in any form, is not a whole and complete food. It is an extracted, highly concentrated product, and it should be used with care, perhaps treated as carefully as a medicine (which seems to be how Dr. Price employed it).
4) Question: Is Green Pastures FCLO diluted with a vegetable oil?
Answer: I have not been able to confirm yes or no. A very prominent marine oil scientist thinks that it is. Initially, I thought that the trans fats present in that one test by Dr. Daniel were compelling evidence as to the presence of a vegetable oil, but that it could have been just one batch.
Now we see that there are levels of trans fats in all recently tested batches. Chris Masterjohn in his response said that dilution with a veggie oil was certainly the easiest explanation, but that it could also be a result of microbial activity. Since GPP are “fermenting” and “adding a starter”, you would definitely think there would be microbial activity, but there is not evidence pointing to that as a source.
David Wetzel says that they don’t even have vegetable oil in their kitchen, much less in their plant. He has also said that they don’t use or add vegetable oil in their process. What he has not said is that the trans fats are NOT from vegetable oil. This could be significant, or not. It could be that the cod livers are put in vegetable oil before being frozen. It could be something else in the way that they are handled before they even get to GPP. Or there could be no vegetable oil at all, from catch to bottle, and the trans fats are from something else entirely.
Without more transparency, it’s simply impossible for us to know. If the trans fats are coming from a veggie oil, that is something that can probably be fixed in GPP’s production process. That some microbial activity could be creating a harmful substance is not a happy thought, and I don’t know how they could fix that.
5) Question: Is Green Pasture FCLO actually from cod livers?
Answer: “Yes.” And “No.” And “Yes” again. And “No” again.
I’ll explain. First it was reported by people close to GPP that they “only” used 10% Pollock livers, and that they would have put that on the label if only they had been asked or had known that it was important to people.
Then, WAPF said in their Q&A that GPP “uses mostly Pacific Cod but also some Alaskan Pollock”. It took more than a month before we heard from GPP that in the past they have used Pollock, but this season they are using Pacific Cod. They did not mention a quantity of Pollock or whether it was seasonal, whether all batches were a certain percentage, or some a high percentage and some low or none.
We also got confirmation from them that all of their fish is sourced from the Pacific and none from the Atlantic or the Arctic, as many of us had been led to believe by statements such as, “The fish used in our Fermented Cod Liver oil and Skate Liver oil are exclusively wild caught in and around the Arctic region.”
So “Yes” FCLO is actually from Pacific Cod livers. But “No” it seems that Pollock livers were also used. But then “Yes”. Turns out that Alaska Pollock was reclassified about 18 months ago to be in the same genus as several other codfish and is scientifically considered to be the closest relative to the Atlantic Cod. But alas, “No”. The FDA does not allow Pollock to be marketed as Cod at this point in time. If you’re confused, you’re not alone. (1)
6) Question: What about the High Vitamin Butter Oil?
Answer: There has been no update on HVBO from GPP. It has not been mentioned. No mention of rancidity or not, no testing of it, no mention of sourcing or handling. Nothing. We did get confirmation from WAPF of it being sourced from Argentina, but no other information and no response directly from GPP. The last references of “Great Plains” sourcing were also removed from the GPP website.
7) Question: Where is the WAPF in all of this?
Answer: Here, to me, is the saddest part about this whole giant mess: WAPF seems incapable of objectivity with regards to Green Pasture Products. Some have speculated that this is so because of some secret financial arrangement or a family tie. I don’t think so, but the truth is that there is a special relationship between WAPF and GPP that does not exist with any other vendor.
Whether it’s nepotism, cronyism, or some other “-ism”, there is something going on there besides just the vendor-organization relationship that WAPF has tried to present. They have said they would act the same way with any other vendor, yet, they have actually behaved in opposite ways to other vendors of cod liver oil products in the past.
There are numerous articles written by David Wetzel and others on the WAPF website that are solely for the promotion of Green Pasture Products. No other vendor has enjoyed that benefit. WAPF is acting as though they are a marketing and PR firm for Green Pasture products, and has for years. They could not be working for them any harder if they were paid to do it.
As WAPF members and vendors, we expected them to be the gatekeepers, to research and review and thoroughly vet products for us in an objective manner. And they appear to have no capacity to be impartial when it comes to Green Pasture Products. Instead, they have banned a vendor and featured speaker at their conferences who attributed his heart failure to FCLO. They say this is their policy, and it has been enforced before, but only ever in regards to GPP, to my knowledge.
We’ve even heard that The Weston A. Price Foundation is threatening to expel local chapter leaders for saying anything negative about Green Pasture Products. Reportedly, they are coaching chapter leaders in how to talk their concerned members through this GPP issue. They are patrolling WAPF-branded Facebook chapter sites and demanding that links to anything but pro-GPP info be removed, and threatening lawsuits if they are not removed. They have canceled the Santa Cruz chapter for linking to a blog that is reporting the other side of the story. They are removing chapter leaders from their private Yahoo group if they say anything negative about GPP, question GPP, or question the way that this situation is being handled. WAPF has completely lost its objectivity and integrity in how it is handling this situation.
Sally Fallon Morrell tells a story that is a perfect example of how completely screwy this has gotten:
“When David Wetzel, the owner of Green Pasture, first began making the fermented cod liver oil, he sent it to NDI laboratories in Canada (associated with Guelph University) for Vitamin D testing. He was surprised when these tests came back showing Vitamin D2, with very little or no D3. Mr. Wetzel immediately communicated this to us. He then sent the oil to the University of Wisconsin for a rat assay test to see whether the oil had Vitamin D activity—and the answer came back yes. Mr. Wetzel has shared all this on his website. The rat assay is considered the gold standard of Vitamin D testing. The University of Wisconsin then recommended UBE Laboratories in Fullerton, California for further testing, and these labs found mostly Vitamin D2 as well.
The prevailing view at that time—one that we repeated at WAPF—was that Vitamin D2 is ineffective and possibly toxic. Of course, these discoveries led us to reconsider this view—after all, cod liver oil cures rickets. This is something we are looking into further and will be sharing with our members in Wise Traditions. There are hundreds of Vitamin D metabolites, so the probable explanation is that the natural D2 metabolites in cod liver oil have different effects from the synthetic D2 added to vegetarian foods, used in vitamin drops, etc. We encourage product manufacturers like Mr. Wetzel to share information like this to help advance knowledge about nutrition.” (5)
So, to recap, GPP was expecting D3 in the product. They found only D2 so this was reported to WAPF immediately because it was unexpected. They sent it to another lab, just to confirm that it was really D2 in the product, and it was. Nobody has said that D2 is not effective, just that it is not as effective as D3, and that it can be toxic. Natural D2 is found in plants. Natural D3 is found in animals. Cod liver does not have significant D2, but is high in D3. And good CLO that doesn’t strip out vitamins and add them back in or add back synthetic vitamins also has D3. Tests showed that GPP has D2. There are two possibilities I can think of.
- The fermentation process is converting D2 to D3.
- The lab results were wrong. Twice. Sending to a marine biology/chemistry lab to triple-check seems like a no-brainer, but it wasn’t done. Why not?
Considering all of the research on D2 vs D3, and WAPF’s acceptance of all of that information (one would assume after examining the studies, their methods, and conclusions), and perpetuation of that information, we should find it interesting that they were willing to abandon it all because D2 was found in FCLO. This was at the beginning, when FCLO was first made. There was no research, no studies, no anecdotal evidence, no human trials or testimonials. There was nothing. Yet, because D2 was shown to be in this product, they completely changed their minds about D2’s value.
On the one hand, there is decades of research into vitamins with tons of studies by reputable scientists. On the other hand, a guy uses an ancient putrefaction method for cod liver oil extraction, adds some bacteria to the process, and calls it fermented. Now suddenly, oh, D2 isn’t so bad! (WHAT?!) They determined in their minds beforehand that FCLO was best and therefore anything CONTAINED in FCLO was best, and they were and are willing to abandon actual research, ignore health complaints, put the best possible spin on test results, bury information, make up new narratives, put out false information, fail to disclose negative test results, suppress free discussion of the issue in their circles, and to the extent that they can, punish anybody that counters (or even just questions!) this PR campaign.
WAPF is the organization that we were trusting to give us good information about health and food. That’s not to say that they haven’t put out good information. The problem now is that we have to sift through that information and question all of it, because we don’t know what’s legitimately good and what’s been compromised by some preconceived ideology.
It seems reasonable to me to expect that when WAPF drastically lowered their recommended daily dosage of FCLO, they would have announced it. I mean, why would they change it? More FCLO means more nutrients, right? So taking more is good, right? But they did change it, and changed it to a much lower dosage.
Can you think of any reason that they would do this other than health concerns, that perhaps too much might be toxic? I cannot. And if that is the case, then wouldn’t it be responsible to announce that you are lowering your recommendations so that people could lower their dosages? Unless, of course, people started asking questions and you had to explain that you were doing so over toxicity concerns, but that would certainly undermine public trust in the product.
And it’s interesting to me that the WAPF didn’t just change the dosage. They are acting like they never ever recommended any OTHER dosage, and that anybody that took “too much” was not following their recommendations. I can only think that they are trying to protect GPP and themselves from litigation, protect GPP sales, and perhaps there is an element of pride involved as well.
There is a lot more, but it makes me weary just to think about writing even more about it, so what I’ve covered here will suffice. Except for this all-important thing that I need to say. At Beeyoutiful, we’re completely committed to being a full disclosure company. If we know an ingredient is in the product, we put it on the label. Period. We have an established process that we put any companies and products through before we use or carry them, and one of the steps of this process is to verify that they too are full disclosure.
To our chagrin and shame, we realized that we had never put Green Pasture through the normal process we do with every other vendor. We trusted the Weston A. Price Foundation endorsement of both the product and company so explicitly that we didn’t put Green Pasture Products through our normal checklist. With the way WAPF went on about them, this had to be pretty much the best product EVER, right? (What’s the old adage about when something seems to good to be true…?!)
I feel like we were misled and fooled, but that’s on us. We should have done more research. We should have asked more questions. Regardless of how this situation eventually turns out, or what facts come to light, we endorsed both the company and products without adequate research.
We didn’t know sourcing. We didn’t know vitamin content. We didn’t know a lot of things. I’m so sorry. We messed up. I can imagine some reading this might feel disappointed in us. Indeed, we’re disappointed in ourselves. We have definitely learned a painful, yet valuable lesson through this.
I hope you can find it in your hearts to forgive us.
Please post your comments or questions below, and I will try to address them to the best of my abilities.