Naturopath Ron Schmid

“I am so filled with dismay at your sensationalizing.  The trust in the Weston A. Price Foundation is being shaken.  United we stand, divided we fall. Big Ag and Big Pharma are celebrating. My respect for you skyrocketed after the Harvard debate.  It’s waning, now.”

As the above message—one of a number of negative emails I’ve received over the last week—suggests, it’s been a tough eight days since Kaayla Daniel issued her devastating 111-page report on Green Pasture fermented cod liver oil, “Hook, Line, and Stinker,” and opened a variety of cod liver oil wounds.

It’s been tough for me, but not nearly as tough as it’s been for a number of others, including naturopath Ron Schmid, Green Pasture owner Dave Wetzel, and Weston A. Price Foundation founder and president Sally Fallon Morell, among many others.  Hundreds and hundreds of messages, pro and con about the Daniel report, Green Pasture, WAPF, and related issues have been posted on various Facebook and blog pages, including this one.

And all this about cod liver oil, a nutritional supplement way out of fashion, seemingly replaced decades ago by various fish oils. But, this dispute isn’t, at its heart, about cod liver oil. It is about the politics and ideology of the WAPF, and its considerable influence on the world of diet and nutrition.

An eagerly awaited new report from the WAPF, just issued on Friday, makes all that perfectly clear. Not in what it says in supposedly clarifying the dispute about cod liver oil, but in what it doesn’t say. Here are five key omissions in Sally Fallon Morell’s report, and why they are so important in understanding what is really going on here:

  1. No dissent tolerated. Ron Schmid, the naturopath who had his upcoming national WAPF conference gold sponsorship and speaking engagement unceremoniously canceled last week, has been an extremely committed and loyal WAPF supporter. Nor was Schmid the first notable and loyal health care provider to be booted, and on this very issue. Back in 2008, osteopath Joseph Mercola wrote in an article on cod liver oil that the WAPF “kicked me off (an advisory board) once I disagreed with their contradictory view” on the subject. Mercola’s heave-ho prompted, yes, a lengthy Q&A defense of cod liver oil from WAPF founder and president, Sally Fallon Morell.  Because Mercola wasn’t the same kind of insider as Daniel, Mercola’s dissent didn’t prompt the huge response that the Daniel report did.
  2. No empathy for those who say fermented cod liver oil may have damaged their health.  Ron Schmid, a loyal WAPF advocate, nearly dies from heart failure, but the cause couldn’t have been fermented cod liver oil, according to the WAPF report: “If this in fact contributed to his heart failure, it is just as likely that his extended over-consumption of cod liver oil in general, rather than fermented cod liver oil in particular, was the contributing factor.” Talk about blaming the victim. Moreover, his situation is reduced to a business problem by WAPF. While he isn’t mentioned by name, he is clearly the target of this comment: “We do not allow any of our exhibitors to criticize another approved product.  If they have concerns, they need to bring them to us to look into.  They should sell their products by emphasizing their good features. Exhibitors who market their products by criticizing competing products will be asked to leave and will not be invited back.” That was Schmid’s fate–exile to Siberia. There have been dozens of other reports on Facebook pages about serious skin rashes and increased colds. As I reported in a previous post, I had terrible pain in my esophagus after several weeks of taking the Green Pasture product.
  3. No commitment to research. When so many knowledgeable people about nutrient-dense food are expressing contradictory positions about a particular supplement, and   people are getting sick, then it’s time to step back and inquire seriously about what is going on here. But in the new WAPF Q&A, there isn’t a single indication that I can find pushing for additional research to determine the truth about the efficacy and safety of the Green Pasture products.
  4. No commitment to open discussion and healing. As far as Sally Fallon Morell is concerned, the Daniel report on cod liver oil wasn’t meant to educate and inform. Quite the opposite: “The (Daniel) report is clearly aimed at putting Green Pasture out of business and taking this wonderful product away from the thousands of people who have benefited from it, including myself and members of my own family.” When you view dissenting actions, even by your closest associates, through such a conspiratorial prism, then it’s clear you can’t tolerate anything approaching open discussion intended to express dissenting views and clear up legitimate health concerns, with an eye toward creating common ground.
  5. No sense of the ongoing risk this earthquake has created. Nearly everyone who analyzes this situation tries to assess the technical aspects of cod liver oil—is it rancid or is it a good source of vitamin D—as if this is entirely a matter of chemistry, and up to consumers to decide. I haven’t heard a single expression of worry that one or a number of the illnesses could lead to lawsuits against Green Pasture for possible negligence in making people ill. (There is this throw-away line in the WAPF Q&A indicating it couldn’t possibly be the fermented cod liver oil leading to the bad reactions: “Some people are very sensitive to the polyunsaturated fatty acids in cod liver oil; others are allergic to all fish products, or sensitive to iodine or to fermented foods.”) I’ve not heard a single expression of concern that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration could poke its hostile nose into the fray, over the possible mis-labeling or inappropriate advertising of fermented cod liver oil, and the need for warnings about possible bad reactions. If you want to know what the FDA is capable of doing to providers of nutritional supplements, just go back and re-read the experience of Wilderness Family Naturals.

Finally, one of the most discouraging aspects of the WAPF report is excuse after excuse on behalf of Green Pasture. It failed to inform people that it included pollack instead of cod for its oils? No problem, says WAPF: “Green Pasture uses mostly Pacific cod but also some Alaskan pollock, taken from Alaskan waters, depending on availability. It is standard practice for cod liver oil manufacturers to use many different varieties of cod and even other fish. They are not required to list the individual varieties on the label.” Yeah, no one is obeying the law, so why should Green Pasture? There’s more, that cod livers can be fermented, and Green Pasture products can’t be rancid, etc., etc.

To me, it’s vaguely reminiscent of the Rawesome Food Club falling out over the alleged Sharon Palmer mis-labeling of eggs and the possible substitution of conventional meats for farm-produced meats.  There were denials and endless explanations, and in the end, the dispute helped tear Rawesome apart, and leave it open to a second devastating raid in 2011 by the FDA and assorted other regulators that put it out of business.

What makes this current cod liver oil imbroglio especially discouraging is that the WAPF has done so much good–it has been instrumental in alerting the country to the importance of saturated fat, especially from meat from grass-fed animals. It has helped alert people to the potential benefits of raw milk, and the dangers of soy. I know in my case, WAPF recommendations have helped shift my food preferences and diet. Not only that, it has stood up for food rights, particularly in helping form, and then support, the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense fund.

Unfortunately, the WAPF is ideologically rigid when it comes to its food and nutrition philosophy. In that respect, it is no different than any other ideologically/theologically-based organization, whether it be political, religious.. or food based. It is a form of fundamentalism, and change isn’t one of the options in such organizations. There is a single narrative, and you can’t deviate from that narrative if you want to be an active participant.  So it is for the WAPF.