Though this page hasn't been updated since 2000,
neither has Whole Foods updated it's position!
They have however removed some of the damning information.
Boycott Whole Foods
This page details the events that caused us to see the light, and cease our business operations with one of our biggest accounts: Whole Foods. We terminated over 10% of our income because principles can not be sacrificed for cash!
The policy we implemented after our run in with Whole Foods prohibits us from working with assholes. That's right, we have a "NO ASSHOLES" policy! We sell to and work with only good, responsible and polite people and businesses!
Stores you should support:
Your local co-op
independent natural food stores
Make sure you are supporting a store/company that really cares about local family farms and certified organic products.
Boycott Whole Foods!
This all started in the Summer of 1999.
We handed this letter out at our farmer's market stand and faxed a copy to Whole Foods corporate HQ in Austin, Texas.
Their VP in charge of Governmental and Public Affairs called us back in 20 minutes and spent 1/2 an hour trying to convince Lori (1/2 of the Sproutpeople) to stop handing it out......
That's the word from the Regional Midwest Produce Coordinator. In response to the FDA's public relations blitz to create a panic about the dangers of bacterial contamination of sprouts, Whole Foods Corporation is poised to carry only sprouts certified with a HACCP plan (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point). The HACCP plan requires soaking seed in a bleach solution so strong it needed EPA approval; the equivalent of one part household bleach to one part water. We are certified organic sprout growers who supply Whole Foods in Madison, Wisconsin and St. Paul, Minnesota. If we used the FDA/HACCP level of bleach, we (who are only 1/5 the size of the average sprout grower) would be dumping essentially 100 gallons of household bleach into the Kickapoo River every week, which flows into the Wisconsin River, which in turn flows into the Mississippi River, which pours out at the Gulf of Mexico. That's what Whole Foods is very likely to demand of us in the near future, and if we don't do it, they will simply buy their sprouts from a company that is willing to dump bleach on their community.
We are very clean. We have studied the HACCP checklist and find that we already perform all the crucial measures on the list except for soaking our seeds in bleach! Our organic certification (OCIA) would not allow the use of bleach anywhere near the level of the FDA and HACCP plan. We buy our seed from certified organic growers who test their seed for pathogens. It is our belief, based on our knowledge of agricultural practices, that if every sprout grower used pre-tested certified organic seed, contamination problems would virtually disappear. There has been a lot of organic-bashing lately from entities threatened by the organic movement. They say that organic growers are filthy because they spread raw manure on their fields. This is a lie; organic growers do not use raw manure--conventional farmers do, however. But people unfamiliar with organic agriculture have no way of knowing this unless people like us tell them. It is just another scare tactic to frighten people away from organic food. Whole Foods, which could be a flagship corporation at the forefront of organics on the retail level, is instead caving in to bureaucrats and liability fears and may actually help contribute to the destruction of natural foods industries in this country. They have already pulled sprouts from all their salad bars and pre-made sandwiches nationwide. The local Whole Foods produce people at the Madison store are sympathetic, but they have very little influence in the corporate hierarchy. Whole Foods appears to be just another company in the money business.
THIS IS ABOUT MORE THAN SPROUTS. If you care about healthy food, Whole Food's ban last year on un-pasteurized apple cider and their likely ban on organic, unbleached sprouts is a warning bell that other foods will also soon be banned. Whole Foods is the largest natural foods retailer in this country, with gross sales of over 1.3 billion last year. They have the power to take a leadership role in promoting the organic movement that has blossomed in this country but if they fail to assume that mantle they will have had a hand in the demise of entire natural foods industries and certainly in their own demise as well. Read their company Mission Statement under the heading, We Promote Environmental Stewardship: "We see the necessity of active environmental stewardship so that the earth continues to flourish for generations to come. We seek to balance our needs with the needs of the rest of the planet through the following actions: Supporting sustainable agriculture. We are committed to greater production of organically and biodynamically grown foods in order to reduce pesticide use and promote soil conservation". Pretty words. Demanding that a producer of food dump hundreds of gallons of bleach onto that earth is NOT promoting "environmental stewardship".
WHAT YOU CAN DO:
Call or write Whole Foods Corporate Offices at:
601 North Lamar St. Suite 300
Austin, TX 78703
Check Whole Foods website for more addresses: http://www.wholefoods.com/company/locations/body/offices.html
Tell them that unless they start acting like a natural food company, you will go back to shopping at your local neighborhood co-op or natural foods market - which incidentally, needs your patronage now more than ever!
Lori Tooker and Gil Frishman
We also sent them this illustration, which Lori made:
On Tuesday, August 17 after faxing a copy of this letter to Whole Foods Corporate Offices I received a call from Margaret Wittenberg, Vice President of Government and Public Affairs at Whole Foods in Austin, Texas. She told me she was "very disappointed" that I had chosen to disseminate this letter, and I told her I was very disappointed with Whole Foods decision not to carry organic sprouts (due to the HACCP bleach requirement). She said it was unfair of us not to tell Whole Foods side of the story, even though I mention their concerns over liability in the letter. She expressed liability concerns if someone gets sick eating something they bought at a Whole Foods store. I pointed out that whenever you open your doors to the public you have to be willing to accept that risk, and she agreed. I also pointed out that HACCP certification is not going to prevent lawsuits and pointed out to her that there were foods in Whole Foods stores that were of much greater risk than organic sprouts. She said she sits on the USDA's Organic Standards Board and sees no difference in the safety of organic vs. conventional food. She said she found my statement about the dumping of bleach a bit dramatic. At this point I strongly affirmed that any bleach we use goes to the sewage plant in our town and then the dioxin from bleach--which does not get filtered out in the treatment process--goes right into the river. All in all, my sense is that this person, although perhaps sincere about her concerns for Whole Foods Corporation, is extremely misinformed and downright ignorant for someone who is a member of the National Organic Standards Board. I mentioned that The Sproutpeople have produced a 13 page report that examines the actual risk involved with sprouts and compares it to the risk of eating other foods. I explained to her that organically produced seed was safer to use than conventional seed, something she seemed unaware of. She asked me to send her a copy of our report, which I have done and I also gave her the name and address of an organic sprouting seed grower that we buy from who can explain organic methods of growing and harvesting to her. She said if it could be proven to Whole Foods that organically grown seed insures safety of the seed they might change their decision. We aren't holding our breath for this.
We posted this letter on the Whole Foods Chat area in the Politics of Food "room". In addition to the call Lori received from Margaret Wittenberg (within hours of her fax), we also got quite a response on our posting - in the form of a response, within hours, from Margaret - to which we responded - Whole Foods then responded to our response within hours. Silly isn't it? We are pleased that they are paying attention to us, though only to cover themselves and to discredit us - of course. Here is that banter....
This is Whole Foods response:
Response re. Sprout Safety
# 39 of 41: by jon lebkowsky [jonl] on Aug 17, 1999 at 12:05 pm CDT
This response was prepared by Margaret Wittenberg, WFM's
Vice President of Governmental and Public Affairs. (She also
spoke to Lori Tooker by phone earlier today).
On July 9, 1999 the FDA issued a health advisory
http://vm.cfsan.fda.gov/~lrd/hhssprts.html "advising all persons
to be aware of the risks associated with eating raw sprouts (e.g.
alfalfa, clover, radish). Outbreaks have included persons of both
genders and all age categories. Those persons who wish to
reduce the risk of food-borne illness from sprouts are advised not
to eat raw sprouts.
"This advisory is updated from a previous health advisory
issued August 31, 1998, and is based on additional information
from clover and alfalfa sprout-associated salmonellosis
outbreaks from January through May 1999. Two outbreaks
were associated with clover sprouts: one occurred in California
in May and involved approximately 30 cases; a second outbreak
in Colorado from March through May involved approximately
70 cases. In addition, form January through March an outbreak
of salmonellosis affecting approximately 85 people occurred in
Oregon, Washington, and California and was associated with
the consumption of alfalfa sprouts.
"The sprout industry has been working in cooperation with
government, academia, and other industry segments to enhance
the safety of its product. These efforts have focused primarily
on seed treatment strategies, good manufacturing practices, and
All in all, there have been 12 outbreaks of salmonella and 3
outbreaks of E.coli 0157:H7 in alfalfa, clover, and radish
sprouts since 1996. Most of the sources of these pathogens have
been isolated on the seeds. As a retailer, it is our responsibility
to be aware of these situations and respond to them in a manner
that can minimize any food safety concerns for our customers
that arise. We researched the situation thoroughly before taking
action, consulting the International Sprout Growers Association,
the FDA, independent certifiers, food safety companies, as well
as individual growers.
The International Sprout Growers Association (ISGA) is the
professional association of sprout growers and companies that
supply products and services to the sprout industry. They are
active in educating and informing members about important
issues impacting the sprout industry, representing growers'
interests before government regulatory agencies, and supporting
scientific research that benefits the sprout industry.
Their recommendations to us, which are also listed on their
website www.isga-sprouts.org, detailed what we and our
customers should expect from our sprout suppliers:
1) visit the sprouter's facility to check on general sanitation
2) request the following from the sprout supplier:
a)a copy of the facility's current food processor's registration
b)a copy of state or federal inspection findings within the last
c)a statement that the supplier is following the recommended
seed disinfection practices using 20,000 parts per million
d)a copy of written standard operating procedures (SOPS)
e)a copy of written sanitation standard operating procedures
f)a copy of written pest control management procedures
g)proof of training in good manufacturing practices within the
The IGSA also recommends that stores and consumers keep
sprouts refrigerated at or below 45 degrees F. at all times;
observe use-by-dates; and wash sprouts prior to serving.
The IGSA has also established a seal of quality program that
allows sprouters to use a special seal on their products if their
company has been approved by one of the three current third
At this time, research to ensure the safety of sprouting seeds
continues. Researchers are seeking alternatives to the use of
chlorine, which, unfortunately, is the only known method of
disinfecting the seeds--something that the sprouting industry
agrees that needs to be done given the circumstances of
heightened sprout food safety problems and the possibility of a
tragic event as occurred with the Odwalla E.coli 0157:H7
Some possible alternatives include hot water with the addition of
hydrogen peroxide to kill pathogens and the use of ozone as a
sanitizer. However, there are not enough tests done yet to
ensure that they and other alternative treatments have the same
effectiveness of chlorine. The use of chlorine with organic
sprouts is currently not allowed, so at this time, with deep
regret, we will not be able to sell organic sprouts until we can
assure our customers that they will be able to match the food
safety measures as outlined in the IGSA's recommendations.
We will restock organic sprouts as soon as we have this
This is our response:
Response to Response re: Sprout Safety
# 40 of 41: by Gil Frishman [Gil] on Aug 17, 1999 at 5:08 pm CDT
It is clear that Whole Foods commitment to organics is only as a
The International Sprout Grower's Association which they cite
as the authority on sprout safety only represents about 20% of
the sprout growers in this country. The ISGA is blaming those
of us who do not bleach seed (i.e. certified organic growers) as
responsible for the outbreak problems while we have always
maintained that if you have good certified organic seed
contamination problems virtually disappear. Whole Foods
believes what the FDA tells them, that sprouts are a high risk
food and unbleached organic sprouts are the riskiest of all.
Bleach is not the answer--organic farming methods yielding
clean organic seed is a large part of the answer. But instead of
standing up for organic growers, they, like the FDA and the
ISGA have decided to blame us even though all outbreaks have
been traced to non-organic seed sprouted by non-organic
growers, NEVER to certified organic growers who of course
use certified organic seed! The president of the ISGA uses the
strong bleach soak, then dumps it into the stream in back of her
facility. Then she labels her sprouts "organically grown" when,
by the very use of bleach no organic agency would certify her.
She gets away with fraudulent labeling because it's not illegal in
her state--neither is it in ours and we've fought for years against
unscrupulous people exploiting the word "organic" and stores
willingness to sell those products as organic instead of insisting
on certification. We don't feel that the ISGA is trustworthy. I'm
not going to get into a bickering session with Whole Foods.
Please go to our website, if you
want the truth (as well as a source of high quality certified
organic sprouting seed and supplies). In parting, let us remind
you that even in the 1995-96 outbreak of salmonella (which was
guesstimated to sicken 20,000 people, though only 700 cases
were reported), illness blamed on sprouts only constituted 1/3 of
1% of the annual salmonella cases in the US and 1999 has seen
less than 200 cases! Let's not lose that perspective. Our full
length report and links to further information on this subject can
be found at:
They then added this post:
# 41 of 41: by jon lebkowsky [jonl] on Aug 17, 1999 at 7:36 pm CDT
Gil, Whole Foods' commitment to organics speaks for itself,
and so does our commitment to food safety. If we know of a
food safety risk, we'll definitely proceed with caution to protect
our customers from risk. To us, even a single 'statistically
irrelevant' illness or death would be too much.
It's unfortunate if this is a detriment to organic sprout growers.
I'm sure that you share our commitment to food safety, and we
just disagree about the weight of risk here. However I don't
think you enhance the credibility of your position with wild
accusations ( e.g. "Whole Foods endorses Dioxin" ).
We had planned on saying no more, but we couldn't help ourselves - here is our final contribution. We apologize in advance for the passion and outrage we suffer over this subject. It is our life and we are stressed well past our point of tolerance.
Jon and friends,
You are right - Whole Foods commitment to organics speaks for itself.
As for helping causes - you would do well to drop the patronizing tone.
Don't paint us as if we aren't concerned about people getting sick. Certified organic sprout growers are being blamed for a problem that can largely be traced to conventional seed. Certified organic seed producers and sprout growers are by the virtue of certification held to a higher standard. We have been using Good Manufacturing Practices for years and now all the conventional people are scrambling to catch up, yet you blame us for their problems. By dropping organic sprouts you are siding with the organic-bashers that say organic food is not as safe as conventional food. When your customers purchase HACCP certified, bleached sprouts they aren't one bit safer. Contamination has never been linked to certified organic growers but sprouts grown with the FDA recommended HACCP bleach have been linked to contamination. YOU ARE NO SAFER WITH BLEACHED SPROUTS, INFACT BY VIRTUE OF THE FACT THAT THEY ARE NON-ORGANIC, YOU ARE PLACING YOUR CUSTOMERS AT GREATER RISK! How can you do that? If Whole Foods has a policy of zero tolerance for risk and if you are SO concerned about the safety of your customers,then you can close your doors right now because there's no such thing as zero risk when you're talking about food
Do tell me - if WF is committed to organics - why don't you just stop carrying sprouts until such time as you are once again able to convince your lawyers that the risk of carrying certified organic sprouts is acceptable?
If you continue proclaiming that WF is committed to organics and environmental stewardship it would be much more credible for you to stand against bleaching the earth . If you are going to start buying HACCP certified sprouts, which at this time require seed sanitation in a 2% calcium hypochlorite solution which is so noxious you have to wear gloves and a mask and have training just to handle it, is it a "wild accusation" to say that Whole Foods endorses the use of dioxin? You can't have your cake and eat it too, Jon. Your actions have consequences and you can try to cover up by claiming concern for food safety but it's obvious that your lawyers have got you running scared. That's what you pay them for, isn't it?
Have you thought about carrying certified organic sprouts with the same label you put on your un-pasteurized juice? Would that please your lawyers? Have you been able to come up with no other alternative than to just blindly follow the FDA and ISGA's suggestions? Are you unaware of the fact that the FDA will be approving an alternative to bleach for HACCP plans that conforms to organic standards by the beginning of next year? You decide to ax us when a solution is so close at hand, because you really don't care.
I know you all think you mean well, but reality is that you are now a publicly traded corporation, not just a bunch of hip people in a cool little store, and that business reality alters your decision making process to the extent that you are balancing the fear of lawsuits against the organic movement. You now depend on lawyers to make your moral decisions--rarely a wise move. Natural food is really just a big pain in the butt for a corporation, isn't it? You need all those stockholders and financial institutions and lawyers on the payroll. Who has time to worry about organics? The story of Whole Foods is taking on prophetic overtones. You contradict your own Mission Statement by your actions (WFM Cares: http://www.wholefoods.com/company/cares/index.html). You should rewrite it and add the qualification, "If we perceive no liability..." Luckily for us the bulk of our customers are co-ops who think for themselves and definitely stand behind organics - and who not only continue to purchase and support our products but post our report, letters and petitions as well. These people are not wide eyed naifs--they grapple with the problems and the undermining of natural foods everyday. They are on the front line doing what they believe in while you hide behind an expensively advertised image, copping airs of corporate sophistication.
Losing our Whole Foods accounts is going to cut our sales, already down 30% this year, by another 20%. It isn't easy for us to speak up on this issue. We have sweated and scraped for over 6 years to make our sprout business what it is and losing ground is an exceptionally painful experience for us. We have a product that is so good, so beautiful and so right, and you treat it like garbage. We respect and even love our sprouts and we are proud of our little business and it hurts to think that the people at Whole Foods can't see the beauty, the elegance of design, the perfection - of our sprouts. People come up to our stand at our farmer's market and say "they are so beautiful" and "I can't live without these". And all you can manage is "It's unfortunate if this is a detriment to organic sprout growers". God, don't hurt yourself. We are in our 40s and have 2 small children, but we are not nearly as worried about losing our business as we are of leaving our children a devastated planet - poisoned even by those who claim commitment to environmental stewardship through sustainability.
You all can say what you will, and the few folks in this chat will likely side with you, but we will not be back - we have wasted enough of our time already. Unlike you, I'm not paid to do this kind of work. Good luck. We hope WF finds it's way - unless it is too late.
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