Ten years ago I was involved in a small startup to test out a new distribution approach for nutritional supplements. Together with an acupuncturist, we explored taking over from naturopaths, chiropractors, acupuncturists, and physicians, the process of selling supplements. Our system would automatically remind patients about when to re-order, and then we’d send out the orders, relieving the health care practitioners of duties they didn’t like to handle, and generally didn’t do well. We called the startup “The Complete Patient.”
We chose the supplement business because it’s a huge and growing marketplace, because the profit margins are attractive, and because it’s a repeat-order business (sometimes referred to among business people as “an annuity business”). The business model generally worked the way we envisioned, and after a few months, we were handling the supplements and herbs for about a dozen or 15 practitioners.
I’m not sure exactly when it happened—perhaps when we purchased liability insurance—but very early in the startup process, I became very aware of the fact that I had a huge responsibility—people were ingesting the products I was packing up and mailing them.
Even though the supplements were made by reputable companies, I worried: What if there was a screwup in one or another of the products—a toxic substance inadvertently got into some capsules, or there was a serious side effect from one or another of the supplements I was unaware of—and people became ill. What would I do as the chief executive? In my mind, the plan was to put a hold on our shipments until the problem could be traced and fixed. It would be expensive, so expensive it would likely crater our startup, but I couldn’t come up with any other scenario. I couldn’t knowingly continue selling a product that I knew could be damaging people’s health, and sleep at night.
To my mind, that was probably the biggest risk that came with operating in the food or supplement business. The profits were potentially fantastic, but you had a greater responsibility than nearly any other business I could think of to be sure your product wasn’t defective. It’s not the same as a software glitch in a batch of iPhones or producing blouses missing a button-hole, all of which inconveniences people. You can make people very sick, perhaps long term sick, or even kill them, and have to live with that outcome for the rest of your life. And I haven’t even gotten to the potential legal liability.
After about a year, my partner and I decided to shutter the business. He had a number of personal and family challenges, and just couldn’t give it the time and energy it required. In a strange way, I was relieved, because I never had to test out how I would respond to a crisis with one of the supplements I was shipping.
I went on from that business to focus more fully on writing on holistic health, and to keep the name, The Complete Patient, and use it for this blog, which I launched in 2006.
All that prelude by way of explaining to those who have questioned my motives in the FCLO blowup, why it has become such a big deal to me. You see, the crisis I anticipated with a potentially unsafe supplement finally burst into my life in an unexpected way, on August 23, when Weston A. Price Foundation vice president Kaayla Daniel released her report questioning the safety and integrity of Green Pasture fermented cod liver oil, and naturopathic physician Ron Schmid reported on his near-fatal heart problems, that he finally, and reluctantly, attributed to FCLO. (By the way, the reference in the photo above to the 1987 comedy “The Three Amigos” is meant to highlight the disparaging term now accorded Daniel, Schmid, and me on the WAPF chapter chapter leader list serve—more on that a little later.) Granted, I didn’t have the ownership responsibility, or risk, that Dave Wetzel has with Green Pasture, or the key endorsement and distribution role that Sally Fallon Morell and chapter leaders of the Weston A. Price Foundation have with the product.
But it was a crisis for me, nonetheless, I realized. As I’ve reported, I had been taking that product for a few months several years back, when I ordered a bunch at the WAPF national conference from the Green Pasture exhibit. With the Daniel report, I realized why it likely burned my throat and esophagus when I tried to swallow it—it was probably rancid.
The Kaayla Daniel report was a crisis for me in another way. How to report on this situation? I’ve always had a great relationship with the WAPF and its founder-president Sally Fallon Morell. I didn’t know Daniel at all, except to recognize her name as a bigwig in WAPF. When I inquired with Daniel that August day as to what Fallon Morell thought about the report, I didn’t get an answer back. Then I looked through the report and learned that the board had turned down her request for in-depth testing of FCLO. Uh-oh, I thought.
Then I read Ron Schmid’s account of his heart condition that he attributed to FCLO. I knew Schmid a little better than Daniel, from having spoken with him a couple times some years back about his authorship of The Untold Story of Milk, while I was writing The Raw Milk Revolution, but I didn’t know him real well.
What convinced me that these two were serious about their concerns was that each had a lot to lose by alienating WAPF and Fallon Morell. Daniel had co-authored a book with her, and presumably was in line to do more. Schmid garnered 20% of his online supplement business revenue from Green Pasture products, and so was taking a significant financial hit by dropping it from Dr Ron’s. His book on raw milk was published by Fallon Morell’s publishing company, New Trends Publishing Inc.
I just assumed that at some point Fallon Morell would come around and see the necessity to press Wetzel to take some kind of public action to credibly test and research his product—perhaps commission a group of outside scientists with marine lipid experience to do independent testing and try to figure out why users of his product were reporting rashes, heart problems, and other health issues.
But to my amazement, the situation has spun out of control. People I thought were friends have cast me as the enemy, one of “The 3 amigos.” Hey, I can take some ribbing, and I’ll probably preface future communication with Daniel and Schmid with, “Hey, Amigo”… But in the current context, that label is disparaging at best, as if Schmid, Daniel, and I are devious outsiders, in cahoots to tear down the WAPF. For what? For pressing the WAPF to do the responsible thing, to react compassionately and humanely to possible health problems in a product it has been aggressively recommending and promoting?
And what about the seeming contradiction of me supporting farmers producing and selling raw milk, and calling out Green Pasture and its FCLO for safety concerns? It’s simple. The battles over accusations concerning raw milk’s safety go back decades, and as such are often muddied by government propaganda and misrepresentation about raw milk’s dangers, in the interests of Big Dairy corporations. In writing about these situations, I’ve tried to see through the mud and figure out what’s really happening. There’s none of that going on with FCLO. There are no corporate competitors. No government involvement. The Daniel tests and the reports of health problems are clear enough to raise raise red flags.
I have to think that shock from the trauma associated with the Daniel report—and it has been hugely traumatic for many of us—has affected ordinarily sensitive and sensible people in unfortunate ways. WAPF is an organization dedicated to improving people’s health—no one associated with it wants to think they are part and parcel of a campaign to damage peope’s health. I keep thinking the trauma has caused some to lose their senses, and their sensibilities. Or perhaps they are just in denial. Or perhaps they feel such a huge amount of loyalty to Fallon Morell they feel powerless to assert their misgivings. One of these individuals, who runs a private Facebook page with many WAPF members involved, in recent days had me kicked off the site. When I inquired Thursday, she wrote me a nice note, explaining in part, “It is my decision to honor the concerns of enough community members that don’t feel safe with you having access to their communication.” I guess I question the priorities here, that people on this site worry more about my presence than they seem to worry about being part of an organization that continues to enthusiastically endorse potentially unsafe FCLO to families and children everywhere.
It’s actually worse than that. Yesterday on the list serve for WAPF chapter leaders, one chapter leader wrote a truly heart-wrenching plea for FCLO action to Sally Fallon Morell and the other chapter leaders, seeking some empathy, and understanding. The chapter leader said she was “flabbergasted that WAPF did not take the time to step away from Green Pasture until further testing could be done. NOT turn their back on them, but just temporarily suspend their hi praise and push for them.” She then explained how worried she was about her mother, who has been taking FCLO despite having a heart condition, and how she herself has had “heart palpitations, vertigo, and panic attacks when taking it myself.” She added she is “worried we will not find out until there is irreparable damage done” to her mother. She ended her long letter by asking the group to “please be gentle…I am scared to death of posting this…”
I am almost embarrassed to post Fallon Morell’s response. To the chapter leader: “You said: ‘I was flabbergasted that WAPF did not take the time to step away from Green Pastures until further testing could be done. NOT turn their back on them, but just temporarily suspend their hi praise and push for them.’
“This is exactly what the three amigos want us to do—make a public statement removing our endorsement of FCLO—Kaayla demanded that I make an apology for our endorsement. This would be a terrible thing to do to a family-owned company that produces a product that has brought so much benefit to so many, including myself and members of my family. And besides, the fclo is NOT rancid—not Dave’s tests, nor Kaayla’s, nor WAPF’s show rancidity. We are planning more tests—of all the Best category cod liver oils, but in the meantime, we keep them all in that category.
“Also, I find it amazing that people are so fixated on the label. Dave’s label complies with all the labeling requirements—Alaskan pollack IS cod and can be included in labels as cod. Moreover, Dave has not hidden this fact, but discussed Alaskan pollack on his blog. As for the butter oil, what’s wrong with the pastures in Argentina? Their grass and their sunlight is surely as good as the grass and sunlight in the U.S. The whole label discussion seems to me to be grasping at things to be critical of.”
There’s not a word of acknowledgment of the chapter leader’s concerns about her mom’s or her own health. Not a bit of empathy. Only words of scorn for “the three amigos” and defense of the “family company” GP, which by estimates I’ve heard has some millions in annual revenues and, if it is like many supplement companies, is making sizeable profits, in this case from its affiliation with WAPF.
But that’s not all. Fallon Morell ends her tirade with a stern legal warning to chapter leaders who dare to give readers of their blogs or Facebook pages info about the Daniel report or about my blog. “What we do object to is linking to Kaayla’s report or Gumpert’s blog, which are false and inflammatory. We ask you to take down these links—doing so now will save us a lot of legal expenses. Those who do not will get a warning letter and then if they don’t comply, we will have the site or page closed as a breach of your trademark agreement with us.”
I really don’t object to her advising chapter leaders to not link to my blog or the Daniel report. I’ve been thrown out of better places. But to threaten legal action against your own most loyal members to force them to remove the link? Now we’re getting pathetic, and downright autocratic.
It’s all part-and-parcel of a sick campaign that has chapter leaders around the country clicking around the Internet, wondering where they stand. They wonder in social media postings: Have they been removed from Sandrine Love’s Facebook page? Have they been removed from the WAPF chapter leader list serve? Are they in favor with the cult leader or out of favor?
And that’s the point here. I have to think that Fallon Morell and some of her staunchest supporters have simply succumbed to shock, and ongoing insistence of some that WAPF and GP act responsibly to extensively test FCLO as to why some people are having serious health reactions. That’s all I can think. I can’t imagine they would act so heartlessly and irresponsibly for money. Or to hold onto power and influence.
I encourage the board of the WAPF to end the misery of this unfortunate episode tomorrow evening when they meet to kick Kaayla Daniel off the board. Take control of this situation from someone who means well, has done much good, but is now acting irrationally to endanger the health of WAPF members and the general public that takes WAPF health and nutrition advice to heart. Those board members include Sarah Pope, Thomas Cowan, Geoffrey Morell, Cherie Calvert, Kim Schuette, Valerie Cury Joyner, along with Kaayla Daniel and Sally Fallon Morell.
So that’s it. There’s no conspiracy (among the 3 amigos, or anyone else I know), no power trip, no joy in making old friends look heartless, no desire to be a bigwig in a competing organization. Just a guy very sad to see an organization that has done so much good degenerate into a vestige of the corporate/government abuse system it likes to mock—of seeing enemies under every rock, discounting and disparaging legitimate health concerns from ordinary people, and throwing its legal weight around against families trying to make the best and healthiest food and supplement decisions.
I know a lot of people wish I would just stop writing about this, go away. Not because they dislike me, but because it’s just too unpleasant. But as we used to say in the 1960s, “You’re either part of the problem or you are part of the solution.” I hope WAPF supporters will increasingly become part of the solution.