Silk: Killing the MessengerJune 11th, 2009
Decoding Dean Foods/WhiteWave Response to Cornucopia’s Organic Soy Study
Recently, co-op retailers around the country sent us a number of communiques from Dean Foods (WhiteWave), and their brokers, concerning their Silk product line. Their attack on the credibility of The Cornucopia Institute, and our soy study, is certainly an effort to deflect attention away from the fact that they have switched most of their products to “natural” (conventional) and away from certified organic.
At The Cornucopia Institute, we are confident in our research and we stand by our recent report: Behind the Bean: The Heroes and Charlatans of the Natural and Organic Soy Foods Industry. We are providing you with additional information and clarification about Silk products, uncensored by Dean Foods’ public relations staff:
1. Silk used to be owned by White Wave, an independent company and a pioneer in the organic industry. When it was still independent, White Wave used 100% organic soybeans in their Silk products.
2. Today, the Silk brand is owned by Dean Foods and the brand is mostly conventional, not organic. Dean Foods is an $11 billion agribusiness giant and the largest milk processor in the United States. They own over 50 milk labels around the country, including Horizon Organic, a brand that heavily depends on factory farms each milking thousands of cows.
1. Nowhere in any communications from The Cornucopia Institute, including in our soy report, does it say that Silk is currently manufactured with Chinese soybeans.
MAKING THIS THE HALLMARK OF THEIR COMMUNICATIONS EFFORT IS A CRASS ATTEMPT TO DISCREDIT CORNUCOPIA’S WORK AND DEFLECT CRITICISM OVER THEIR SWITCHING THE SILK ORGANIC PRODUCT LINE OVER TO CONVENTIONAL.
2. According to reports by farmers and farmer-owned cooperatives, after Dean Foods purchased the Silk brand in 2002, they told domestic farmers that they would not work with them and buy their organic soybeans unless they could match the cheaper price of imported Chinese soybeans.
3. Dean Foods gradually began introducing additional varieties and flavors, many made with “natural” soybeans. Make no mistake about it, these are conventional soybeans. The percentage of Silk products manufactured with organic soybeans has declined steadily over the years, and recently plummeted.
4. Dean Foods’ statement about buying all North American soybeans was recently added to their web page, presumably, since we had announced the imminent release of our report and they understood the outlines of our research based on their receipt of our soybean sourcing surveys. We have no way of verifying whether the information about Dean Foods’ soy sourcing is accurate today because of their refusal to participate and share such data. Unlike their two competitors in the refrigerated dairy case (Organic Valley and Wildwood), Dean Foods refused to transparently participate in Cornucopia’s study; depriving their customers of an independently verified review of their practices.
Many other prominent soy food brands around the country also were fully transparent in their practices. Another major name in the organic and natural foods industry, Eden Foods, deserves particular recognition for its exemplary practices in full and open disclosure of its business practices.
5. In terms of Dean Foods buying a “small portion” of their soybeans from China in the past, that seems to contradict the reports from organic growers in the United States, and the company has never released any hard data on their purchases.
Commitment to Organics and Sustainability:
1. Recently, Dean Foods reformulated their Silk product line converting almost all their products to “natural” (conventional) soybeans. They did this, quietly, without telling retailers or changing the UPC code numbers on the products. Many retailers have reported to us that they didn’t find out about the change until their customers noticed and complained.
2. To add insult to injury, not only did the price of Silk products not go down when they switched to cheaper conventional soybeans, but they now reintroduced three products with organic soybeans and raised the price on those. Greedy profiteering plain and simple.
3. Dean Foods tells its customers that it partners with Conservation International to source soybeans that are produced in a sustainable, socially responsible and ethical manner. Dean Foods has not made these standards of sustainability available to its customers – unlike the USDA organic standards, customers have no way of accessing their exact definition of sustainability, which remains unclear. We question why they do not simply purchase USDA-certified organic soybeans.
Production with a Neurotoxic Chemical:
1. Silk’s Light soymilk products, as well as its “Heart Health” soymilk, are made with soy flour instead of whole soybeans. The only known sources of conventional soy flour, suitable for soymilk, are produced by first bathing the soybeans in a “hexane bath” in order to extract the oil. Hexane is a highly explosive volatile solvent. It is a byproduct of gasoline refining and a neurotoxin. We believe that soybeans used in Silk’s Light and Heart Health soymilk are immersed in this neurotoxic petrochemical to make soy flour, which is listed as the main ingredient in these Silk products.
2. Hexane is classified as a “hazardous air pollutant” by the Environmental Protection Agency and emissions are regulated for their contribution to air pollution. Food processors are the country’s major hexane emitters. When The Cornucopia Institute sent samples of hexane-extracted soy flour to an independent lab for residue testing, residues as high as 21 parts per million were found. The effects on consumer health of repeated and long-term consumption of hexane-extracted soy ingredients have not been thoroughly studied. An extraction process that does not involve hexane is available, but using hexane is cheaper for the processor.
3. Silk’s creamers contain another hexane-extracted ingredient, soy lecithin.
4. Silk “Plus DHA” contains algal oil that is commonly hexane-extracted. Moreover, the Cornucopia Institute has received reports from parents of toddlers and children who experienced diarrhea and stomach upset from the proprietary DHA used in Silk (Life’sDHA by Martek Biosciences Corporation). This is the same additive, found in infant formula (extracted from algae and soil fungus), that has been linked to severe adverse reactions in infants. (Cornucopia, through a freedom of information request, has obtained adverse reaction reports from the FDA verifying this unfortunate health side-effect.) The FDA has never tested the safety of Life’sDHA, relying instead on safety data supplied by the same corporation that has a financial interest in selling and placing these additives in foods. The FDA did, however, indicate serious reservations regarding the safety of these additives.