Dan Corrigan of CorganicWhen the Weston A. Price Foundation Wise Traditions conference convenes in Indianapolis late next week, there will be sessions on bone broth, nutrient-dense vegetables, re-building the gut, raw milk safety, and traditional diets, among many others. But possibly the most intensely debated topic will be relegated to the hallways because it is too hot to handle in the formal sessions: Who is selling the most authentic cod liver oil, Dave Wetzel of Green Pasture Products or Dan Corrigan of Corganic

Both Wetzel and Corrigan are long-time WAPF conference sponsors and will have displays at the Indianapolis event. And they will each almost certainly be fielding tough questions and comments from attendees who are debating and discussing the cod liver oil matter. The big mystery is whether they will be discussing among themselves the questions that customers have been wondering about, including: 

-Can cod liver oil really be fermented? 

-What is the most authentic ancient tradition for producing cod liver oil? 

-Is it normal to have such widely varying reactions to one of the products?

-Does cod liver oil provide as effective a health benefit as ratfish or skatefish oil?  


Dave Wetzel of Green Pasture ProductsIt has been Weston A. Price Foundation gospel that Dr. Price, the dentist whose teachings from the early to mid-1900s underlie the organization, strongly recommended cod liver oil produced according to ancient methods as the best way to obtain Vitamin D3 and ensure good dental and overall health. And it has been the conviction of Sally Fallon, who started the foundation and runs it, that the most authentic embodiment of Dr. Price’s ideal cod liver oil is the “fermented” variety produced by Green Pasture Products of Nebraska. (Of course, cod liver oil has been taken by people around the world since the 1600s as an important source of vitamin D during winter months, when the sun isn’t as reliable a source.)


Green Pasture, owned by Dave Wetzel, has long had one of the largest exhibits at Weston A. Price Foundation conferences. Wetzel and his team passes out samples of its cinnamon and mint flavored oil, along with plain cod liver oils. By all accounts, they are huge sellers, both by health care providers and re-sellers, and directly from Green Pasture. Each of his bottles of cod liver oil contains an homage on the label to Dr. Price and “his travels around the world” to “cultures that were strong of mind, body, and spirit” thanks to “the sacred and natural foods they consumed.” 


But the cod-liver-oil debate has provoked such intense discussion and arguing in WAPF circles and on social media that it threatens a major rift in the organization.  Dan Corrigan of Corganic helped run the first WAPF chapter, in Michigan, beginning in 2001. Ironically, that chapter on its web site sold Green Pasture cod liver oil, and helped raise $50,000 for the fledgling local organization. (WAPF has since expanded to dozens of chapters around the country.)


But so offended is WAPF founder Sally Fallon about Corrigan’s stoking of the debate, including purchasing a Facebook ad questioning whether cod liver oil even can be fermented, that she has threatened to bar his company from exhibiting at future WAPF conferences. Corrigan, for his part, is offended that WAPF, in an annual rating of nutrient-dense food producers, rates Green Pasture cod liver oil “best” and the Corganic Rosita brand as only “good.” 


I decided to explore the subject via a post here not only because the debate has become so intense that it is difficult to ignore, but because it highlights so well the limitations, even among very committed and knowledgeable people, of what we know about what truly improves and detracts from our health. 


Now, before I go on, full disclosure. I have known both Sally Fallon and Dan Corrigan since 2006, when government aggressiveness against raw milk spilled onto the scene and I was covering a number of the regulatory actions against small farms. Fallon was commenting on the national situation, and Corrigan was an activist helping support Richard Hebron, a farmer and herd share manager whose truck full of raw milk was confiscated near Ann Arbor, leading to a major struggle that wound up with Hebron being let off and herd shares legalized in the state. 


Shortly after the Hebron episode, Corrigan in 2007 launched Corganic, growing out of his desire, based on having a godson who is autistic, to serve that community with high-quality probiotics and other supplements.


While I haven’t known Dave Wetzel, I have chatted with him while he was passing out samples at previous WAPF conferences. I even had occasion to purchase Green Pasture cod liver oil at one of the events several years ago. Hard as I tried, I found myself unable to tolerate the cod liver oil—after a short time taking it, I found its burning sensation as I swallowed it so intensely painful I gave up on it. I figured that my body somehow couldn’t tolerate it, or wasn’t ready for it. 


I switched to regular fish oil and kind of forgot about the unpleasant experience with Green Pasture, until last spring, when I was chatting with Corrigan, and he told me about his own search for a cod liver oil he could feel comfortable selling to his customers, many of whom are autistic and thus very sensitive to all manner of foods and supplements. The search was prompted by the dissatisfaction he says lots of people had with the fermented cod liver oil. 


“Green Pasture manufactures fermented cod liver oil, which is rated the ‘best’ by WAPF,” he says. “There are many stories of people having great success in using the product. We initially started selling that, but based on feedback from our highly sensitive customers, we decided to stop selling it and look for an alternative.”


His search led his business partner to a Norwegian producer of what they feel to be a superior product, a fresh cod liver oil, but also produced using an “ancient technique.” He has been making that available, to  what he says is rave reviews from his customers. 


But it also led him to conclude that the whole notion of fermenting cod liver oil is misguided. “You cannot ferment cod liver oil. Oil does not contain any sugars/starches, which are required for the friendly bacteria to grow.”


The Green Pasture practice of placing cod livers in a vat and letting them sit for six months doesn’t lead to fermentation, but rather to rotting, he contends. 


Green Pasture fired back at the upstart. Last March, on his site’s blog, Wetzel said, “We have received many calls on the subject of new cod liver oils from Norway described as Virgin, Extra Virgin etc….These oils are not new but the marketing activity is new as the industry is attempting to re-born the perception.” A lengthy followup suggested the new oils were “processed”—always a loaded term. 


The online debate over cod liver oil seems to have gotten its start nearly two years ago, when a young mom posted on her blog about her own difficulties with Green Pasture cod liver oil, and previewing the non-fermented cod liver oil promised by Corganic.  That post prompted more than 200 comments, including one from a WAPF member who stated: “You are a brave woman! FCLO (fermented cod liver oil) is such the rage for members of the WAPF. I’m a serious member myself, and yet, taking fermented cod liver oil has been a great challenge. We have 2 bottles of plain in the fridge with very little out of them. I can’t tell you how glad I am to get this post. It gives me hope that we can take a good version of cod liver oil.” 


From that post, the debate has raged on and off. There was even a discussion on Facebook a couple months back in which someone inquired as to whether anyone was aware of how the deceased popular nutritionist, Aajonus Vonderplanitz, felt about Green Pasture fermented cod liver oil. In the back-and-forth that ensued, one person looked up one of his newsletters, in which he said of Green Pasture, “It is the only one you can eat, it’s fermented, it stinks, it will burn your throat and it’s perfect.”


As I said, I don’t personally know Dave Wetzel of Green Pasture, but I have chatted with him at enough Weston A. Price Foundation events to know he is a decent man selling a product he and many others truly believe in. In a conversation we had in the last few days, he told me that the “fermentation” of cod liver oil is more akin to pickles sitting in brine. “You control the bacterial breakdown (of the cod livers) with salt.” 


He readily acknowledges that some people, like me, can’t tolerate taking the oil straight, and for that reason he has the oil available in capsules as well. “Capsules are our number one seller for a reason. Everyone is different, I can’t explain it. It may be a PH thing…Some people use warm water to wash it (the cod liver oil) down.” 


He hesitates when I ask him about the benefits people get from the fermented oil. He is sensitive, as well he should be, to appearing to promote a supplement’s health benefits, for fear of legal repercussions from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. But he allows, “Tens of thousands of people have changed their health” because of his company’s cod liver oil. 


While Wetzel won’t comment specifically, several health care practitioners who use his firm’s cod liver oil swear by it. Louisa Williams, a California naturopath, says, “I have been prescribing the Fermented Skate and Cod Liver Oil for over ten years. It has continually tested superiorly for me energetically (I use a kinesiology-type method called Matrix Reflex Testing) as well as clinically on patients. In contrast, I have tested out the new Rat Fish Oil (from Corganics) that seems to be great when you read the European literature, but sadly it hasn’t tested out well in either way in my Bay Area patient population.”


Alvin Danenberg, a South Carolina dentist, says he studied the effects of Green Pasture cod liver oil on 13 of his periodontal patients with bleeding gums. In a summary he wrote together with dental health expert Ramiel Nagel, the two state: “Patients took Nutrient-Dense Real Food Supplements (consisting of capsules of fermented cod liver oil combined with high vitamin butter oil, fermented skate liver oil, and organic kelp powder) during the course of the day without changing any other eating or lifestyle habits for a total of 30 days. Of the 41 sites examined, all of which demonstrated bleeding-on-probing at the start of the study, 66% demonstrated no bleeding- on-probing at the end of the study.” 


I’m not sure where that leaves me on the matter of fermented cod liver oil. I have great espect people’s own inclinations and experiences as to what works and doesn’t work. As with raw milk, some people experience significant health benefits, and others seem not to. 


Since I doubt anyone will be able to determine who is “right” in this struggle (least of all me), I find the outlook of one WAPF insider insightful. He didn’t want his name used because the debate has become so polarizing, but he said he felt “turned off” by what seemed to be Corrigan’s “attack” on Green Pasture and Wetzel. “Now there is this intense fear and anger about cod liver oil.” He says he did some investigating, and found that even during the 1800s, “there was conflict over cod liver oil—that one company’s oil was better than another.” 


In today’s world of blogs and social media, “It has become very divisive.” Given all the corporate power arrayed against nutrient-dense food, “We shouldn’t be fighting each other.”  


One thing I haven’t mentioned is money. While I don’t think that is what is primarily driving this ever more bitter battle, it is worth noting that cod liver oil is an estimated $7 billion market worldwide, and about $1.5 billion in North America, according to Corrigan. Even on the margins, money can cloud people’s medical and health judgments sometimes. Just ask the drug companies. 


In this situation, I think the people really do care about helping others with their knowledge and products. They have spent too much time and effort doing that to suddenly suddenly switch over to being pure money grubbers. 


All that being said, it sure would be nice to have some real research on the differences, if any, in health outcomes for the two types of cod liver oil. The big-money research organizations almost certainly aren’t going to do it, given that cod liver oil can’t be patented. I just worry that positions on the fermented-non-fermented cod liver oil have hardened enough that no one is about to be convinced simply by the logic of the other side’s arguments. Maybe even real data won’t change anything. But it sure would be nice to see some cooperation toward figuring out what works and what doesn’t.