Sally Fallon Morell giving a talk at the University of Massachusetts in 2010.

One of Sally Fallon-Morell’s major accomplishments since forming the Weston A. Price Foundation in 1999 has been to establish a vibrant world-wide network of local chapters, nearly 600 strong, in the U.S. and as far away as South Africa and New Zealand. The chapters organize food clubs, provide recommendations to local farms and health care providers, recruit new members, and bring in food experts as speakers (I’ve spoken at WAPF chapters in California, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and New Hampshire.)

Each chapter is headed by a chapter leader, usually a person already committed to the Weston A. Price food and nutrition philosophy, who organizes the chapter in his or her own area. At the national conference, like the upcoming one in Anaheim, CA (Nov. 13-16), local chapter leaders meet the day before the four-day conference begins.

Dave Wetzel of Green Pasture provides information at his company’s exhibit booth on how chapter leaders can distribute FCLO to their members, such as by selling it themselves or directing members to order directly from Green Pasture, at a discount.

Not surprisingly, the ongoing controversy about whether FCLO might be rancid and causing ill effects for some users is creating tension among the chapter leaders. Yesterday, the WAPF sought to put an end to any debate about the safety of FCLO by warning chapter leaders: toe the line on FCLO, or you’ll join naturopath and long-time WAPF member and exhibitor Ron Schmid in being unceremoniously booted out.

In an email to chapter leaders yesterday, under the heading “The Cod Liver Oil Controversy”, the WAPF pointed chapter leaders to its Q&A on the controversy, and added:

“What we do not allow is criticism of competing brands.  It is fine to say ‘I find this brand works best for me,’ or ‘My children like this brand the best.’ What we do not allow is negative comments about products we recommend.  This is our policy at conferences as well.  Exhibitors are not allowed to criticize competing products, only talk about the good things in their products.

“If you feel there is some reason we should not recommend a product in our shopping guide or elsewhere, please bring your concerns to the staff—rather than posting comments online–and we will look into it.

“For those of you who sell products through your personal websites, please check to make sure these guidelines are being followed.  If you feel that you cannot comply, then we will reluctantly ask you to step down as a chapter leader.”

The WAPF also signaled in the email that the organization’s cozy business relationship with Green Pasture will continue. “Many of you organize bulk orders of cod liver oil for your group, or even sell it on your websites.  As a chapter leader, you may sell or arrange orders of any of our recommended brands.”

When you go to the WAPF web page I linked to in the previous sentence, with the recommended brands, you find there is only one on the page with yet another link to a Weston A. Price page….you guessed it—Green Pasture. The page, from 2010, lists about 60 chapter leaders who sell Green Pasture fermented cod liver oil.

Not surprisingly, many WAPF chapter leaders weren’t pleased with the email warning about not voicing concerns about FCLO. In a number of posts on Facebook, they expressed their doubts and displeasure. (I am not quoting them by name, or indicating which Facebook pages the comments came from, to protect their identities.)

I hate that WAPF is so dogmatic about things, but I have learned a lot. I’m going to the conference in November, primarily because the last time I went I learned a whole lot and really enjoyed the food (and the deals on products). But I don’t agree with everything they do and I’m hesitant now to be associated with them as a chapter leader.

I will never be a blind follower of anything, and was raised to question everything, but I am not sure there is room for that within WAPF, which is a true disappointment since I always thought they were kinda rebellious.

Basically the typical Chapter Leader e-mail went out today…. except this one addresses the controversy and in essence told us that we can recommend any product they endorse, we can organize group ordering of those things they endorse, but we are not allowed to discuss a product they endorse in a negative light, that discussing this controversy in public/internet land is not allowed and that we should address our concerns directly to them, and if we feel the need to then we should consider resigning our position as Chapter Leader. This gives me many mixed emotions……

Not that I would agree with everything any organization does anyway, but the leadership has gotten shaky here lately….I’ve found that even rebels want people to agree with them…and some people just can’t “agree to disagree” for the sake of peace. I think SF is one of those people, unfortunately.

I never minded it before this situation, and was actually happy to mention it and teach people about WAPF. Now I am seriously considering stepping down, especially after this last development.

Ugh, I’m not a fan of WAPF’s shut up or get kicked out policy. We should be allowed and encouraged to be free thinkers and to do our own research.

The same kind of dissent is showing up on the chapter leader list serve. As Karen points out in a comment following my most recent post, the chapter leader listserve, searchable on onibasu.com, has discontinued showing the WAPF chapter leaders’ Yahoo group. Until last week, anyone could search out comments on it. (I tried to access it once last week briefly, and was unable to call up the most recent comments.)

In one comment made available to me, a chapter leader said yesterday on the list serve, “I have been a member of the WAPF for about 10 years now, and a chapter leader for 4 years.  While I think this is an organization that can be very beneficial in spreading the message of nutrient-dense diets and natural health, I have also at times felt like the position of the WAPF can become somewhat dogmatic and unquestionable, as if people aren’t willing to even consider anything that conflicts with the official position of the WAPF. I think that is very unfortunate, as not being willing to consider new information and data can halt progress and prevent growth.”

To which Sally Fallon-Morell replied, “Of course we are willing to consider lots of opinions, and we have 4 brands of cod liver oil in the best category.  What we don’t tolerate is the smearing of products with lies (fermented cod liver oil is NOT rancid) and the attempt to put a good company with a good product out of business–yes, people have come to me and suggest we do that!  Many of us have wonderful results with the product-just because it has not worked for you does not give you the right to disseminate untruths. The people who are not willing to consider new information and new data are the people who are smearing Green Pasture– there is not a single mention of our test results in Kaayla’s report and she knew about them because I shared them with her.”

Such dissent is even prompting calls for strict action by WAPF to silence the dissenters. In one comment on the list serve today, a WAPF chapter leader said said she was “wondering if it would not be wise for the Foundation to start being more particular about vetting the chapter leader requests that come in and as well review chapter leaders that are now currently active? – I have personally been dismayed, and at time frankly horrified at the amount of outright disrespect in some of the posts of the recent FLCO controversy from those chapter leaders that are openly and blatantly criticizing not just the FCLO but also the Foundation itself, its stance and mission! Thank God for the patience Sally has had to date, but I nevertheless have to ask why is that being allowed, and hope that there are new guidelines coming up in the future that will never to allow this to happen again!”

So why is there no move toward accommodation by WAPF and Sally Fallon Morell? She says it’s because she wants to do all she can to ensure fermented cod liver oil stays on the market. And why can’t WAPF chapter leaders express concern about fermented cod liver oil? Because no on at WAPF is allowed to say anything negative about any sponsored product, even to recount a negative experience they may have had with the product, as Ron Schmid did. I’ll just say as an aside I’ve been involved in any number of trade shows, and have never heard of any business or organization enforcing such a policy. Exhibitors at trade shows do say negative things about other exhibitors –it’s part of the nature of competition in business. It doesn’t happen a real lot because bad-mouthing the competition isn’t usually considered professional, and generally results mainly in giving the competitor more public exposure. Something’s not making sense in WAPF land.

(Editing note: this post was edited since it was first published; in particular, the third paragraph was adjusted to reflect the fact that Dave Wetzel doesn’t actually address chapter leaders the day before the annual conference, as was reported previously.)